Labour regions plan gets a tick

HELEN MURDOCH
Last updated 12:58 25/07/2014

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Labour's promised $200 million pool of money to help regional development has some traction among Nelson-Tasman's leaders.

Labour leader David Cunliffe announced the party's regional development plan at the Local Government NZ conference in Nelson this week, saying the fund would create "breakthrough opportunities" for jobs and sustainable growth.

National's Economic Development Minster Steven Joyce has dismissed the initiative as a "slush fund".

Nelson Regional Economic Development Agency chief executive Bill Findlater said the move would be positive, but only if local and central government worked with regional business to develop targeted, bottom-up development.

"No-one is looking for hand-outs but we are looking for partnerships to get development going."

Nelson-Tasman was a primary producing region with a lot of opportunity to add value to what it produces, he said.

Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne said the programme's success depended on how the money was applied.

In Tasman's situation, help to fund the proposed Waimea Community Dam would be a huge boon to regional development.

"But it's not just about handing out money - be it from Labour or National - there has to be rules around how it is prioritised and used."

Nelson mayor Rachel Reese said there were opportunities for funding partnerships between central and local government, iwi and business such as the Waimea Community Dam, the expansion of aquaculture, and developments in marine engineering, aviation, IT and education sectors. "We do need new models to fund long term intergenerational infrastructure and this is an area of focus for all of us in the local government sector."

However, Reese was concerned Labour's proposal could see "a lot of form-filling. with many missing out".

"While a competitive fund sounds attractive I prefer an outcome-focused collaborative approach, where principles and commitment are agreed at the outset, rather than having a punt on floating to the top of an oversubscribed fund."

Nelson-Tasman Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dot Kettle said while the chamber was apolitical it did have a view on the issue, and it was clear the regions were in a strong position to contribute to national prosperity.

But issues facing the regions were different to those confronting the main centres and universal polices to address, for example, Auckland's housing crises, impacted on the regions.

"Local solutions are more effective than one-size-fits-all growth. We are an exporting region and look for initiatives that will grow our place in the world."

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Governments needed to use a mix of targeted financial hand-ups and legislation.

Local Government NZ president Lawrence Yule said support for regional economic development needed to be sustainable. Economic growth strategy needed to consider the nation as a whole and the needs of its regions.

"We need to find ways to make our regional centres attractive for investment and for skilled migrants to settle."

For that to occur, there needed to be a shared strategy developed with the Government, he said.

BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said any fund to help develop regional industry would require clear parameters.

Any fund would need to be contestable, with clear rules on how funds would be paid out, commercially durable and demonstrate a visible return to the community and the Crown, he said.

Funding a single project in a region would be unlikely to raise regional prosperity overall.

"Overall, regional economies would benefit from policies that foster economic development," O'Reilly said.

"Reducing the rates burden through better local government performance and reducing tax levels through prudent spending by central government - these policies would go a long way towards improved regional economic growth."

- The Nelson Mail

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