It was pleasing to read the new year vision outlined by Mayor Meng Foon in the Gisborne Herald on 6 January. One of Meng’s greatest strengths is that he knows the diverse communities of our region better than just about anyone. Two or three of his points I would take issue with however.

In terms of retail development, if Gisborne is to have a competitive edge over similar-sized centres it will be because we have boutique stores not found elsewhere in New Zealand or overseas. Developments based on locally-owned retailers rather than national/multi-national chain stores should be prioritised. The reality is that retail creates a few low/semi-skilled jobs and ultimately only creates wealth for the owners who often live out of the region – which is where the money spent by locals ends up.

Mills, while adding some value to the product before it is sent overseas, also export their profits out of the region and create low-skilled, high risk jobs that are no good for healthy families. Rather than encouraging more large retail developments or more mills, GDC needs to work much harder to attract high value business to the region.

As a region we need to get high tech and high culture enterprise based here. The most creative minds in the region should be supported to design strategies that attract this kind of investment to the region. Our existing strengths are things like relatively low land values, lower than average cost of living, our cultural wealth and great lifestyle for young families.

When it comes to community consultation – while I agree with Meng that there may be little gained from engaging external experts to tell us what we already know – it is sometimes important to have a skilled and independent facilitator ensure that everyone who wants to is able to have a say on issues that affect them.

Central government have recently released a discussion paper on improving government-community consultation that includes a section on building community capacity to engage with government agencies. I hope Meng encourages GDC staff and councilors take time to read this paper and consider their commitment to these issues.

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