OPINION: A new year awaits the new Southland councils and with it comes challenges and opportunities across a host of issues.
However, at the risk of repeating myself, the real challenge ahead for rural communities in Southland and across the nation is firstly understanding what the population trends and predictions mean for us, and then responding in a positive way, because they are significant.
The greying of rural communities, indeed Western communities in general across the globe, is nothing new. I remember my parents talking about the problem as the arrival of the Tiwai smelter was viewed by many as the saviour, in terms of attracting new families to the south. It was seen as a move that would insulate us from what the rest of New Zealand was going to have to contend with.
Well, it helped for a time and will continue to do so for some time yet, but there is no denying small-town and rural Southland is now in the same boat as everyone else.
What seems to be occurring is now we have regions competing with one another, cities with cities and even country with country, instead of each capitalising on the natural advantage each other has. I guess that's the way of the world, however, I do believe there is definite opportunity for government to encourage development in the regions more than currently occurs.
The rise of the "Auckland State" has certainly changed the game in terms of how the rest of New Zealand fares across many fronts. The reality is every region is now competing for a diminishing resource in terms of people.
My view is that while we are now in the game of competing with our neighbours for the same people resource, we do have some definite advantages and we need to leverage off them.
We have a community that's proud of who and what it is, individuals who are resourceful, innovative and determined. We have in place infrastructure such as roads, water reticulation, waste disposal etc, largely in good order.
We sit on some of the most productive land on the planet, being farmed by a generation of farmers second to none, and we have space. Add to that access to community capital via the Community Trust of Southland, the ILT, the MLT, the Central Lakes Trust and others, which is unparalleled in this country.
We also have four local authorities that generally get on very well and work together in a way that doesn't occur elsewhere. The Southland shared services initiative, which has been in place and functioning well for about 20 years, has been largely unheralded. It just got on with what it saw as a common sense approach to service delivery challenges.
I believe the natural advantage we have over other regions, when all the above factors are taken into account, is significant and we need to be on the front foot.
Certainly a major priority for me and the Gore District Council in coming months will be to capitalise on our natural advantage, tell our story and tell it well; to work proactively with business and community to ensure our place is the place business wants to be.
Local authorities have a major role to play in ensuring the landscape is right for business to thrive. Not only do the rules need to be appropriate and fair, they must be applied in a common sense manner.
I believe if councils demonstrate the leadership required, the resourcefulness of our communities will mean Southland thrives into the future irrespective of what others may do.
» Tracy Hicks is the Gore district mayor.
- The Southland Times
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