Editorial: A year of firsts and a shift in the right direction

Last updated 13:00 28/12/2013

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OPINION: Time is almost up for 2013. Personal experience will largely determine if it's been one for the ages or one to forget.

But there are some themes to the events in our corner of the world that can give a wider flavour.

On the plus side, the local economy is finally shrugging off the lingering hangover from the global financial crisis, more than matching the optimistic national mood.

A survey this month found economic confidence in Nelson, Marlborough and the West Coast was at its highest in four years. Big retailers have shown their confidence with large developments in Richmond in particular.

Christmas spending has been well up on last year, and there have been signs of life in home building.

Tourism has had a mixed year, but operators say bookings this summer have lifted. The region's other sectors have generally had solid years, including a revival in the fortunes of the troubled pipfruit industry.

A sturdier economic base can only help with the growth of the Nelson-Tasman region.

The long awaited census this year showed that Nelson had the fastest-growing population of any region in the South Island and second fastest in New Zealand between 2006 and 2013. Tasman recorded the second-fastest population growth in the South Island.

The challenges for the region's leaders and planners is how to manage this growth without disrupting the special character - natural and manmade - that draws people here in the first place.

We are hardly at choking point but without coherent ground rules, growth can be unbalanced and ultimately unhealthy.

Among those grappling with these problems will be Nelson's first woman mayor Rachel Reese who displaced Aldo Miccio in the October elections.

She and her new-look council have already been faced with some difficult decisions over earthquake prone buildings, closing both the Trafalgar Centre and the Nelson School of Music because of their potential risk.

It's hoped the New Year will bring some clarity to the future of the centre in particular because the city can't afford to be without such a major venue.

One thing that will defy long-term clarity is the weather which again caused heartache this year. A cloudburst with some of the most intense rainfall recorded in New Zealand flooded homes and businesses in Richmond and Stoke in April and the following month another downpour caused a landslide that killed Jude Hivon when it engulfed her Sandy Bay house. In both events the comfort and support of the local and wider community was appreciated.

The region hosted a vibrant range of festivals and events, including a shiny newcomer. Light Nelson drew thousands to the spectacularly lit Queen's Gardens in July and is set to become a fixture. The Suter art gallery reached its fundraising target for a major redevelopment that starts this year.

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The Tasman Makos showed they were much more than great entertainers by winning promotion to the national rugby premiership. In a completely different field, Richmond's residential special school for girls, Salisbury, also celebrated victory after the High Court ruled its proposed closure was unlawful.

Like the elusive perfect game, it's hard to find the perfect year, but overall 2013 scrubbed up ok. There is always room to improve though, or as fans like to say, there's always next year.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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