This very moment is important. We are at a cusp. Our current government is delivering on promises (thank you!) and we are seeing real investment in projects that will be catalysts for positive change. Projects that will grow confidence, encourage other investors but most importantly, celebrate and uplift our communities.
The mid north particularly is currently enjoying some real wins. From Te Hononga in Kawakawa to Manea in the Hokianga, we are seeing some long-held community dreams starting to become a reality. I attended the blessing of the Te Hononga grounds last week. This is a community-led initiative that will provide a real point of difference as the gateway to the Bay of Islands and the wider Far North.
I need to acknowledge the leadership and work of Far North Holdings Ltd. FNHL is a CCTO, a vehicle the Council uses for its commercial activities. It is 100 per cent owned by the Council, thus the ratepayer, and is focused on commercial activities that provide a return (and not just in a money sense) for the district. They are accountable to the Council and work to a Statement of Intent. It is because of the work and credibility of this company that our district has benefited from early investment from the Provincial Growth Fund. I am extremely grateful for this.
Feedback on this fabulous investment has been interesting, from elation to disapproval. With a district of 52 identified communities and extreme living conditions – illegal housing with a long drop to multi-million dollar estates – I am not sure that some people fully appreciate the many challenges the area faces. The investment offered will see work undertaken that would not have happened otherwise without real cost to the ratepayer, and we are already challenged to balance affordability with basic and necessary services.
Timing of these investments puts our current review of the Long Term Plan in clear focus. I cannot emphasis enough the importance of people providing feedback on the draft plan. It is highly valued and does shape the decisions made.
Encouraging prosperity is a multi-string approach. It requires vision and action. It requires leadership and buy-in. It also requires hope, belief and a willingness to work together … in big doses. And this is where our main challenge lies. For without commonality and a desire to see beyond ourselves to a better tomorrow, we will continue to flounder.
In January 2015, I sent an open letter to elected officials across Northland (you can read it on my website). I share these comments once again – but as a call to all leaders, whether formally recognised or not: “What we must seek to do, as all leaders must, is to unite and encourage – to provide hope. To listen, to serve and to make decisions that seek to grow and protect our homeland in the most appropriate way possible. For the decisions we make today will form ripples that will continue to flow in the centuries to come. “
In the bigger scheme of things, Aotearoa - New Zealand is still a magical place. A country of authenticity, cultural richness and in many places, a backyard like no other. We live in a time however, where our future is uncertain. Our current path – our legacy, is questionable and without intervention and a clear vision for where we wish to go, we are destined to follow the path of a world currently on a tipping point.
On returning from Beijing last November, I shared the idea that we needed to get smarter in our approach to attracting and managing inwards investments. Over the last few months a concept has developed in my thinking and this I have shared with a number of influential people. The feedback has been nothing but positive. The idea is around developing a proactive local policy and partnerships that not only celebrate and care for our people and our place, but importantly, create a legacy that ensures we leave our backyard in a better place for our future kaitiaki.
The aim is to develop a framework that proactively promotes and manages inwards investment (internationally and domestically) that sees the Far North grow and develop in line with the expectations of our district vision; He Whenua Rangatira – A District of Sustainable Prosperity and Wellbeing.
Simply put, we really do need to get smart! Develop a way forward that identifies and enables sustainable and innovative methods that support an environment (people and place) of respect, authenticity and prosperity.
The motivation behind this is that currently foreign inward investment is managed by the OIO (and other government agencies). Local Government has little if any influence on this decision. I believe we can better manage this at the onset by being clear and proactive. Recognising that any investment relationship needs to be mutually beneficial, the framework would aim to provide clarity and support for potential investors to understand the opportunities and the support networks and the terms in which these can be taken advantage of. Noting that such a framework would naturally identify areas that are not supported for investment.
In a nutshell, the approach would be five fold. Address landownership models – focusing on partnership, lease and other relationships rather than foreign ownership. Two, promote robust investment opportunities that focus on industry we wish to encourage (e.g. tourism, aquaculture, horticulture, forestry, marine, farming, energy and manufacturing). Three, identify and legislate areas within the District Plan that promote and enable specific industry development. Four, identify and strengthen key relationships that benefit our communities/district, investors and government. Such as investigating developing Public - Private Partnerships that sustain investment and mutual returns and five, develop processes that support efficiency and cost effectiveness for industry development.
The concept is currently sitting with two ministers. I plan to continue to advocate and work towards progressing the idea into a feasible case over the next few months.