Sisterly ties not so bad after all

MICHELE ONG
Last updated 05:00 30/01/2014

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New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd has had a change of heart and said yesterday he would not be pulling the pin on the city's sisterly ties with Chinese city Kunming.

Mr Judd told the Daily News that the council had a "moral obligation" to continue with the relationship.

He said the sister-city policy was due for review and he would be meeting with the council's democratic services manager Julie Straka today to see where the council was at with its relationships with both Mishima and Kunming.

In July last year, the then-mayoral hopeful had pledged to "put an end to this nonsense", with reference to the $90,000 garden New Plymouth gifted Kunming in an effort to develop business relationships.

Former mayor, Harry Duynhoven, was challenged by Mr Judd to produce "one enduring ecnomic benefit" the district has seen as a result of its sister-city inception.

The debate has come at a time when China has overtaken Australia as New Zealand's top export destination. Exports to China hit record levels in October and November last year, with a value of $1.2 billion.

Four months into his role as mayor, Mr Judd said the change in roles had brought about a "paradigm shift" and he had been able to have "different conversations" with stakeholders.

"When I came in as a councillor, there was a garden that wasn't finished and they had run out of money, and extra budget was needed," he said.

"My question was that it had been going for 10 years and why hasn't it been finished?"

At that time, it felt like the council was spending more money with little returns. Finances were still tight but that did not mean the cities could not be friends, he said.

"We may not be visiting each other face-to-face because there's no money for that but that doesn't mean you can't be penpals," he said.

The mayor said it was a balancing act to see how far the council should go in promoting the relationship while keeping ratepayers happy.

Mr Judd also said he was sorry if he had offended anyone with his previous comments. "Relationships are precious, of course they are."

From now, it was about building a relationship that would bring out "defined outcomes" for both parties. "It's not just that we're sister-city and we have gardens, that's not a relationship," Mr Judd said. "It's about human connections, families and business ties, success stories."

New Plymouth councillor Len Houwers, who is no fan of sister-city relationships, said the council had yet to debate the matter.

"There are still some obligations we have to meet but we haven't talked about it as a council yet and I'm looking forward to a robust debate," Mr Houwers said.

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Former NPDC international working party chairperson Lynn Bublitz said he was thrilled to hear the mayor was planning on continuing with the Kunming ties.

Mr Bublitz said the sister-city relationships were low-key with "profound returns".

Taranaki Chinese Association president Betty Leung said she was pleased with the news.

"Hopefully under Mr Judd's leadership, the relationship will flourish and bring economic benefits to the local community."

- Taranaki Daily News

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