Reality check…

Whangaparāoa SH35

 

Opinion Piece: 7 April 2011

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The Gisborne Herald Editorial on 4 April needs a reality check.

Petrobras is not a good operator, they have been responsible and roundly criticised for numerous environmental disasters and human deaths in Brazil and further afield. They are a world leader in deep water drilling, which is increasingly desperate and dangerous given the scarcity of easy oil.

Just two weeks ago Petrobras was involved in a major incident in the Gulf of Mexico. Eight days after US regulators allowed Petrobras to start deep sea extraction one of the 8000-foot long production risers fell to the sea floor after the chain connecting it to its 130 ton buoyancy can failed. There are no reports of any hydrocarbon release at this stage, however Petrobras has not yet commented on the incident. So Petrobras have had a major incident before they even start the job!

Natural gas is not a ‘clean-burning fuel’, according to the US Energy Information Administration, worldwide the burning of natural gas (which is mostly methane) produces nearly 5 billion tons of CO2 each year, which is just behind oil and coal emissions.

The Petrobras permit is not just for gas, it includes oil as well. Hekia Parata’s spin is that it is now a ‘research’ permit – that ‘research’ requires the company to drill an exploratory well unless they run away from Cape Runaway at one of the two permit surrender milestones.

Petrobras has confirmed it will be based out of the Port of Tauranga, and talking to Coasties who have worked on rigs overseas and don’t want one here, I can’t see how it will create a single job for the Gisborne district.

Major gas finds are not going to lead to cheaper electricity in New Zealand. Any petroleum extracted would no longer be New Zealand owned, the government has very clearly said it would be taken by the multinationals to sell on the international market (or possibly taken back to Brazil in the case of Petrobras).

There are no effective ‘environmental protections’ for deep sea petroleum extraction, the new practice is experimental at best and the only way to guarantee a disaster does not happen is to not let them drill. As we have seen in the Gulf last week, where the review and strengthening of regulations has been second to none, deep sea drilling is simply too unpredictable. The Raukumara Basin has an average of three tremors per day and regularly has earthquakes over 5 on the Rhicter scale, it is twice as deep as the Deepwater Horizon well that blew out last year and Taranaki wells are in only 100-150m of water so they are no way comparable.

I’m not sure what the Editor bases his claim on that ‘a majority of New Zealanders hope Petrobras strike a major gas field of East Cape’. In a poll of over 12,000 people this week only 12% said they thought fossil fuels should be a government priority for our energy future.

New Zealand certainly has become a frontier for new exploration, and a frontier in the struggle of communities that rely on their local environment for survival against corporations who rely on exploiting anything they can for their survival. The wellbeing of our district should not be put on the auction block in the interests of foreign corporations.

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GH Editorial reply 7/4/11: http://gisborneherald.co.nz/opinion/editorial/?id=22178

 

 

You Give Ludd a Bad Name…

Opponents of Petrobras drilling off East Cape have been labelled Luddites. This month is the 200th anniversary of the British Luddite protests and I appreciated Mark Engler‘s exploration in ‘Dissent‘ magazine of whether or not those demonstrators of old should really be described as anti-progress.
The Luddites did not oppose technology per se, but rather asked some important questions about the ends to which new technological discoveries were being used and who in society would benefit from them.
The original Luddites were neither opposed to technology nor inept at using it. Many were highly skilled machine operators in the textile industry. Nor was the technology they attacked particularly new.
The Luddite disturbances started when British working class families at the start of the 19th century were enduring economic upheaval and widespread unemployment. The war against Napoleon had ‘brought the hard pinch of poverty to homes where it had previously been a stranger’. Food was scarce and rapidly becoming more costly. Then, on March 11, 1811, in Nottingham, a textile manufacturing centre, British troops broke up a crowd of protesters demanding more work and better wages.
That night, angry workers smashed textile machinery in a nearby village. Similar attacks occurred nightly at first, then sporadically, and then in waves, eventually spreading across a 70-mile swath of northern England. Fearing a national movement, the government positioned thousands of soldiers to defend factories and Parliament passed a measure to make machine-breaking a capital offense.
As the Industrial Revolution began, workers naturally worried about being displaced by increasingly efficient machines. But the Luddites themselves were totally fine with machines. They confined their attacks to manufacturers who used machines in what they called “a fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labour practices. They just wanted machines that made high-quality goods and they wanted these machines to be run by workers who had gone through an apprenticeship and got paid decent wages. Those were their only concerns.
Ironically opponents of oil and gas exploration in the Raukumara Basin are calling for more investment in clean technologies like solar and electric vehicles to replace our reliance on old technology. Arguments about technology (much like those about deep sea oil and gas drilling) often come down to legitimate debates over values. I would like to see some more discussion on competing values in the current debates on mining in this country.
One of the more prominent supporters of the Luddites is poet-farmer Wendell Berry. Berry writes: “Like almost everybody else, I am hooked to the energy corporations, which I do not admire. I hope to become less hooked to them. In my work, I try to be as little hooked to them as possible. As a farmer, I do almost all of my work with horses. As a writer, I work with pencil or a pen and a piece of paper.” When branded a Luddite, Berry rises to the group’s defense. “These were people who dared to assert that there were needs and values that justly took precedence over industrialisation,” he writes; “they were people who rejected the determinism of technological innovation and economic exploitation.”
We would do well to maintain such skepticism today, Berry contends. He does not reject new inventions out of hand. He flies in airplanes, drives a car, and cuts wood with a chainsaw. But he is not willing to accept technological “advances” for their own sake. He challenges us to ask “what higher aim” each new innovation serves, and what its likely impact on our communities will be.

Increasing Equality

The Spirit Level has some exciting implications for the Gisborne District. No surprises that in our community wealth and health inequalities are more pronounced than most other places around New Zealand. Also not surprisingly, inequalities here are largely, though not exclusively, aligned with ethnicity (Europeans/Pākeha control nearly 93% of the national net worth but only comprise 83% of the population, while Māori make up over 10% but only own 4% of the wealth) and age (young people have much higher ratio of debt to assets than older people), and to a lesser extent gender.

While the factors contributing to this situation are largely historical and circumstantial, there are things that can be done today to create a more equal community if that was something we aspired to. The Spirit Level certainly provides strong evidence as to why reducing inequalities is an important goal but there is a fundamental change in values that needs to take place if equality is something we make a community goal for Gisborne.

Massey University published research last year that showed over the past 30 years New Zealanders have drifted away from our egalitarian roots and now more people than ever do not believe equality should be a goal for our society. Commentators have linked this shift with the rise of radical political ideology of free market economics that has dominated New Zealand government policy since the mid-1980s. So now we have a more unequal society where 10% of the population own more than half of the wealth, more half the population own less than 7% of wealth and a steady trend is that a decreasing proportion of people own their home. But more importantly, less people than ever think we should be aiming for a reduction in the disparities between the haves and the have nots. As Midnight Oil sang ‘the rich are getting richer, the poor get the picture’. Another trend down is that less and less of the value produced by the country is held by New Zealanders, and a increasing proportion of the population have a decreasing net value. The Treasury technocrats who have pushed what Professor Jane Kelsey dubbed ‘The New Zealand Experiment’ have been very successful in terms of shifting our thinking as a country.

While this ideology has been espoused by some outspoken local civic and business leaders for a generation, it is pleasing to see some of have moved on and a new, hopefully more enlightened set of leaders is emerging.

Tim Jackson’s book “Prosperity Without Growth” and Michael Shuman’s “Going Local” have been influencing my thinking on economic policy and his recommendations for local and national economies are closely aligned with the thesis of The Spirit Level authors.

I am very interested in looking at how Council policies on rating for example has been used over the past ten years in a way that may have the effect of shifting more of the rates burden onto those who can least afford it. I think we should also be looking carefully at how public policies can make it easier or harder for big box retailers owned by foreigners to setup here and effectively shut down our mainstreet’s family-owned businesses.

I think a fair and active democracy requires that we try to give everyone an opportunity to make positive contributions to the community, fairness doesn’t mean we have to treat everyone the same. If people live in different circumstances then treating them differently is justified. The level of opposition to the Voter Participation Project focused on neighbourhoods that have poor election turnout was a great case in point. Either opposers have a very base understanding of what it means to be fair or they were motivated by some irrational fear or bias against trying to encourage poor people to vote in an informed manner.

While The Spirit Level has had it’s detractors and critics (largely politically motivated some claim), the authors have responded resoundingly to questions raised and a global movement is developing aimed at raising public and political awareness about the benefits of reducing the gap between the wealthy and poorest citizens within a country and community. The Equality Trust established by the authors of The Spirit Level has a guide for local groups and I would be keen to hear from anyone interested in forming a Gisborne group to look more closely at the current situation on things like wage ratios in local businesses and implications for Council policy positions that do or not include increasing equality as a goal.

Wilkinson and Pickett, The Spirit Level authors, have clearly demonstrated through peer-reviewed empirical evidence that the more equal a society is, the happier, healthier and less stressed, better educated and less likely to be a victim of crime everyone is. I’m as keen as anyone else to get beyond the ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality that has grown with the increasing gap between rich and poor, can we find others who want to explore these opportunities?

Happy New Year

So there goes 2010, and as 2011 rolls in we see petrol going over $2.00/litre in town, which probably means $2.50 up the Coast. This year the International Energy Agency referred to Peak Oil in the past tense, saying output will never again get to the “all-time peak of 70 million barrels per day reached in 2006.” Global demand for oil is increasing exponentially and the cost of production is going up as the stuff gets harder to extract.

The good news is that while the New Zealand government has acknowledged the need to plan for life beyond cheap oil, so has a growing number of Gisborne people. Planning to adapt our lifestyles seems like a better strategy than having change forced on us.

Local residents face similar challenges if we like the lifestyle the district offers. Gisborne District Council is an entity we pay money to that ensures decent roads, safe drinking water, some agreement about who can do what where and the provision of other basic services essential to maintaining our quality of life.

There has been a lot of column space dedicated recently to complaints about rates rises for some sectors of the community and suggestions we should cut Council services or delay maintenance and replacement work.

Despite all the table thumping, the good news is that a significant proportion of ratepayers will have a reduction in their rates and the vast majority will probably have an increase of less than $2 per week.

With the Reserve Bank predicting inflation of five percent next year, we should thank staff and the former Council for ensuring the average rates rises are well below inflation. While farmers and some businesses complain about the rises, we should compare them with last year when residential property owners in the city were hardest hit and faced increases in the poorest parts of town of over 16%. So we all have to do our share and while legislation prevents rates from being used as a mechanism for wealth redistribution, if you have a multi million dollar property that is also a business, you expect to contribute a bit more than the average.

As a recent editorial pointed out, Gisborne is no longer in the highest bracket for rates in the country and while we have high levels of poverty we also have a lean Council, expensive rural roading and flood protection infrastructure to maintain in the face of decreasing central government support.

Gisborne has 360,000 hectares of grassland, 150,000 hectares of planted trees, 40,000 hectares of native bush and 9,000 hectares of horticulture.

Gisborne also has huge areas of ‘Maori land’ a lot of which is termed ‘unproductive’ (because it’s not being intensively farmed or forested) and ‘unrateable’ (because the multiple owners are either deceased or impossible to track down to recover rates from).

If a fraction of the time, passion and resources committed by councillors, staff and lobby groups to cutting Council services was redirected into developing a strategy for attracting long-term residents to the district, we could have a really effective campaign.

Part of such a strategy should focus on attracting Maori with connections to Te Tairawhiti to come home to work and build on the ancestral land everyone seems so proud of.

We also have a great opportunity to profile our community as a potential new home for the thousands of visitors here over summer. We have no traffic jams (except at New Years!), no air pollution, no crowded waves, no in-fill housing, no crass multinational strip malls… in fact, there’s not much here except a beautiful environment, laid back lifestyles and a lot of very friendly people.

Knowledge-Based Economy

I’ve made some comments in the last couple of days (in my first Council committee meetings) about the need for us to put more emphasis on knowledge-based economic opportunities rather than just relying on low value, high volume exports and/or processing. I was asked to elaborate, so here are some ways Council might be involved in this issue:
(a) when Councillors speak in public on what we individually or collectively see the future prospects for the local economy are I think we have an opportunity, maybe even a responsibility, to help the community imagine what could be rather than just what is obvious;
(b) in our advocacy on behalf of the region and Council planning processes we could do everything we can to ensure that things like ultra-fast broadband, secure power supply, light industrial zones and central government investment in research and development are secured as quickly and adequately as possible – I know much of this Council has been involved with but I’m not sure the commitment, particularly from Councillors, has been as strategic or sustained as it needs to be if we want to be better positioned sooner rather than later;
(c) we can partner with other key stakeholders – like the Chamber, Polytech, runanga, NZTE and others – to develop a world-leading campaign to proactively let knowledge-based NZ and foreign businesses know all the reasons why Gisborne is the place they should be located – we have 20,000 mostly upper-middle class, educated students/graduates pouring into the district every year to party and it sounds like this year may be the first time they will get something tangible that could influence their thinking about relocating here for work, lifestyle, family, etc. The problem is there is no well thought through, comprehesive campaign that has our whole community buy-in. Someone asked who would fund such a thing – I think there are entities around that would invest in such a strategy if it was properly developed, based evidence of what has worked elsewhere and had wide local support. Tauranga struck it lucky last year when a small lab there discovered a new way of creating Titanium compounds – that team had central government support and is now looking like a $10b knowledge-based industry that will be located in their region for as long as they want it (nevermind where the Titanium comes from); and
(d) our regional expertise is growing food, farming and increasingly forestry (with still a fair bit of unique culture and lifestyle on the Coast that has some real tourist potential if it can be managed carefully) – food production is a massive global issue – we could encourage government R&D investment in this region – there is hundreds of millions available in multi-year research grants and there are a few groups here that have accessed some in partnership with CRI’s, etc. This is a major interest for runanga too – but our region probably has one of the lowest rates of access to this funding which in turn could be the basis for whole new industries and technical knowledge that can exported around the world.
Ideally an Economic Development Agency would lead this kind of thinking and suggest ways for GDC to get in behind bids, campaigns, etc. But in the absence of an EDA I think we should be working with ECT, runanga, horticulture/agriculture/forestry industries, the Ministry for Research Science & Technology and Foundation for Science, Research & Technology on some plans to establish at least one maybe two specialist research centres here in the next five years.
There are some other opportunities that I have been discussing with local stakeholders like the government’s interest in establishing NZ as an international funds administration hub for the Asia-Pacific region and their expressed intention, subject to a report recently submitted by an independent working group of experts that advises on legislative implications, to find a provincial centre that could be the incubator for this new industry which would require hundreds if not thousands of clerical positions – but also needs reliable electricity and high speed broadband. Not a highly educated workforce or the highest paying jobs, but well above what our average wages are now and some significant population growth potential to spread the rates burden (and would no doubt bring some new challenges).
Anyway, those are just a few of my quick thoughts on the subject – I hope we can keep progressing the conversation further.

Profile & Priorities

Te Poho-o-Rawiri, Waitangi Day, 2010

I am standing for Council because I want to encourage much more public participation in discussions and decisions about the future for our communities. Diversity around the council table is important so the district leadership truly reflects the people they serve and we all move ahead together.

I moved to Gisborne with my wife Natasha Koia in 1998 to provide care for her elderly grandparents. We still live with her grandmother and now have our own family with two young children.

I have a degree in communication design, a post-graduate teaching qualification and have worked as a graphic designer, teacher, researcher and community organiser. My research and project management business was established in 2004 with local, national and international clients including the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Education and The World Bank. I currently hold governance roles with the Board of Trustees for Waikirikiri School and Presbyterian Support East Coast, and I served three years on the board of the NZ Council for International Development.

More information about my priorities, track record and a list of respected locals who endorse my election are available at: http://www.manu.org.nz

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Question 1. Rates

Our region currently has huge infrastructure, transport and energy costs, low incomes and limited employment options. I would support Council appointment of a skilled advocate to influence central government so that any impact of national regulations are fully understood and compensated for by central government not ratepayers.

GDC needs to get much smarter at securing external resourcing for major projects. We need much more sophisticated negotiation skills to make the case for private and public investment in local infrastructure.

We should establish a ‘50,000 Taskforce’ with the goal of reaching this population by 2020. Design and implement an aggressive national and international marketing campaign to attract world class talent to relocate to the region bringing expertise and increased earnings.

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Question 2. Infrastructure

Cycling and walking needs to be made much easier and safer than it is at present.

We need to urgently establish alternatives to more logging trucks in the city. We need the companies benefitting to pay for the constant road upgrades required.

The rail needs a rescue plan in place by April – based on a robust study of the options not rushed reports.

We need ultra-fast free broadband to every home by 2012.

We need a bylaw requiring all rental homes to pass a Warrant of Fitness to reduce the negative health, education, financial and social outcomes from substandard housing.

The community needs to think about and decide how we best support local businesses and how much big box retail we want in our town. We should take a different development path to places like Tauranga.

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Question 3. Council involvement with economic and community development

The sobering social and economic issues in our region are not just statistics – they have faces and names as friends, family and neighbours.

Council doesn’t need to lead economic development but needs to ensure it is smart and takes into account potential impacts on social, environmental and cultural wellbeing. Similarly council doesn’t need to lead community development but needs to work with residents and other stakeholders to ensure communities lead their own development.

Local authorities should have a key role in coordinating central government funding coming into our region for social and economic development to make sure it is lined up with local priorities. I will encourage council support for residents groups at neighbourhood and village level to determine local priorities and development plans.

Question 4. Council provision of facilities and events for young people

Council doesn’t need to provide these directly, but should work with young people, community organisations and businesses to develop more opportunities for young people. This could include computer clubhouses, homework centres, all ages music venues, business incubators, community gardens, and sports and recreation facilities.

Young people are full citizens and Council should provide a non-voting seat for the Tairawhiti Youth Council around the Council table and on all committees.

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Question 5. Biggest environmental problems

Significant challenges facing the district include farm and beach erosion, waterway sedimentation, agro-chemical pollution, minerals exploration, native habitat destruction, increased risk from extreme weather and our dependence on oil-based energy.

However one of the most important issues is the need to secure a collective commitment to adjust our lifestyles to ensure future generations are also able to enjoy the abundance we have been blessed with.

Council should lead by example – using more solar energy, providing loans paid off by rates for solar water heating, switching to hybrid vehicles, using bicycles around the CBD and planting vegetables in public gardens.

Council should facilitate more environmental education and community action and establish a regional Environmental Forum with statutory agencies, businesses and non-government organisations to identify, plan and monitor action to address priority environmental issues.

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Rail Report Requires Realistic Review

The highest railway viaduct in New Zealand is the 97 m high Mohaka viaduct spanning the Mohaka River about half way between Napier and Wairoa. This bridge is of steel girder construction, is 270 m long and was opened in 1937.

Organisers of last week’s symposium in Gisborne on the future of the Gisborne-Napier railway say the Hawkes Bay Regional Transport Committee report released yesterday does not provide sufficient analysis and an independent study on future scenarios needs to be commissioned.

“We still need a comprehensive review of future options for the line that takes into account social, safety and environmental benefits as well as freight volumes and tourism options. The paper from yesterday’s meeting will help in terms of the additional market information, but the relative roles of the modes into the future still deserve some in depth analysis” said Transition Tairawhiti spokesperson Manu Caddie.

“The paper presents facts, in some cases in more depth than we have had before, but it seems to take each mode as it is, and assumes that the relative role of road, rail and port will stay much the same. There is no recognition that the future traffic need not go by road, nor through the port. It could go by rail and save millions of dollars and many lives in the process.”

Mr Caddie believes there will be competition for the future traffic between rail, road, and coastal shipping. The quantities the paper suggests could well make the railway viable, but if the region wants to have a railway line, it has to use it and not assume that road or the port gets the first crack at the traffic.

“There is no analysis in the report of the ability (without extra expense and environmental impact) of the port to carry the increase in traffic. Nor is there any analysis of the impact of extra tonnage on the roads in safety terms, though there are figures provided  that suggest that the roads are not particularly safe even with current traffic levels.”

The report commissioned after a meeting in Gisborne two months ago with Kiwirail CEO Jim Quinn, regional mayors and Chambers of Commerce, calculates the social cost value of road accidents in the region as $182 million.

“This is a staggering figure and we can expect many more lives to be lost as truck numbers dramatically increase, their length increases and their stopping distance requires an additional 20% on what existing trucks need.”

Hamilton City Council has an outright ban on allowing 53+tonne trucks on their roads, other than State Highways, until they know precisely the costs it will impose on the ratepayers. Mr Caddie suggested Gisborne could do the same, particularly considering the exclusion of truck trailers from fuel tax increases last year.

“The trucking industry says road repair costs will be reduced as the impact is less with the weight spread across more axles but we know the number of trucks coming into the city and on the Gisborne-Napier route is going to rapidly increase over the next ten years if we don’t use the rail.”

“Coastal shipping has real potential, but there are some major investments required in the Port that I’m not sure residents will be happy about ECT making on our behalf and while electric trains are common will we revert to sailing ships when the price of oil jumps?”

Mr Caddie believes the short timeframe in which the report had to be completed did not permit the consults time to do the in-depth analysis to make robust recommendations on the best way forward.

“There are a few options that haven’t been looked at seriously yet and we need some decent work undertaken on what existing importers and exporters are prepared to pay to transport their goods in and out under different economic environments.”

Mr Caddie said the regions should investigate with Kiwirail and the government the potential to provide the service at cost to get the volumes up.

“Two thirds of the $2m annual operating costs quoted by Kiwirail is depreciation for replacement costs, so a case could be made to the government to provide a subsidy of $660,000 for 10 years to cover basic maintenance and put the rest aside. If we don’t manage to get the volumes required in that period then they don’t need to worry about replacement costs and they can use the $13.5m saved somewhere else. If it is viable within 10 years then allocate the funds for replacement costs and everyone is happy.”

The Rotorua line has been mothballed for nine years and there is now substantial work required to re-open the line. Not a quick or cheap job, cost estimates range from $10-15m. Jon Reeves from the Campaign for Better Transport estimated, based on the Rotorua line assessment, it could cost over $100m to reopen the Gisborne-Napier line if it is mothballed.

Mr Caddie says the report also has some obvious gaps such as the true transit times of HCV’s (trucks).

“While the government has committed $40m to build a viaduct over the Matahorua Gorge to save less than a minute of travel time on the three hour trip, they can’t find similar funds to ensure we have rail access for the next 20 years.”

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A goal is not a strategy

A report released this week from independent think tank The New Zealand Institute should be compulsory reading for all local leaders. ‘A goal is not a strategy’ concludes that New Zealand needs to get more businesses to establish themselves overseas, ensure we have a high skilled, well supported workforce and put more focus on the science and technology of industries like farming, forestry and fishing.

The report concludes that lifting labour productivity depends on improving things like entrepreneurship, innovation, skills, investment and natural resources.

The report suggests New Zealand’s most important export sectors – tourism, agriculture, and manufacturing – have lower than average productivity so simply growing these activities without also substantially lifting productivity will not lift GDP per capita.

There are many opportunities in the areas Gisborne excels at, such as agriculture, horticulture and tourism. But information, communications and technology (ICT) and niche manufacturing, along with value-added goods and services based on primary production, are where we need to invest most aggressively.

Ngati Porou schools with support from the Ministry of Education have invested millions in ICT over the past ten years, Lytton High School has been producing world class computing graduates and some of our most successful local entrepreneurs found success through internationalising their business.

I was at the Federated Farmers presentation to the Community Development Committee of Gisborne District Council last week and have some sympathy for their frustrations about the high value of our currency. As the son of a farming family, in the early 1980s I saw similar stress on farming families from record droughts and 24% interest rates.

The reality is that unless our primary production sectors make a quantum shift from high volume, low value exports into new knowledge and technology based goods and services our region will be left behind. Local leaders need to get much better at building the case for attracting some of the billions available for research and scientific investment in our primary industries. The world is hungry and looking for more sustainable production of both food and construction materials. While we cannot feed and house the planet, we can provide new technology and productivity skills to other countries. Organics, biofuels, renewable energy are all industries with massive growth potential this century.

So, where is the strategy for retaining and attracting talent to our district? How can we support local businesses to internationalise their expertise? What are we doing about the social issues that impact on our children and their ability to reach their full potential? What is the Plan B once transport costs make our low value exports even less competitive? Who is doing the thinking and influencing to help our region step up as a model for the rest of the country?

The proposed Economic Development Agency has great potential to lead some of this work provided that it avoids being captured by special interest groups; appreciates the interdependent relationship between social, economic and environmental wellbeing; and encourages the development of national educational leadership from local schools.

We live in a region that has everything going for it – a wealth of natural resources, rich cultural heritage, world class innovators, a clean environment and caring community. We don’t need to follow the path of places like Tauranga that might have gained the world but in the process lost its soul.

Our regional development strategy has to be smart and sustainable in a way that enhances our communities, economic security and natural environment.

Universal Access for Gisborne?

A recent survey of households in Kaiti found that 90% have a mobile phone and more than one in three have broadband internet in the home. Gisborne residents are obviously committed to using new technology to help with communication, education and involvement in society.

Given the isolation of our region relative to the big cities and overseas markets, access to high speed internet access and affordable information technology should be the centre-piece of any plan for a prosperous region.

High-speed wireless internet access for all residents is becoming a top priority for local authorities around the world.  Whanganui District Council has just subsidised free wireless to two low income neighbourhoods in their town and in Canada advertising is being used to sponsor wireless access to poor neighbourhoods. Given the high access rates charged by the telecommunications companies in New Zealand, electronic infrastructure is quickly being recognised as a public good that requires democratic control rather than just private owners.

Gisborne District councilors wouldn’t even allow staff to setup a Facebook page for the Annual Plan this year. Thankfully Corporate Affairs Manager Douglas Burt has championed Council involvement in broadband initiatives and projects like Computers in Homes and getting broadband to all our rural communities.

Bristol City Council over the past twelve months has been using Participatory Budgeting, including online ways for citizens to set the city spending. The council put aside funds for three city wards to allocate spending through an online discussion.

To carry out the project, the council used Open Source (free) software which enables residents to suggest ideas for what the money should be spent on, and allows other citizens to vote for the ideas they support. While the final decision on spending can’t legally rest with ‘the internet’, the council committed to stick by the decisions made by participants, so long as they are legal.

Half way through the pilot project results are showing that 130 people had registered on the site, a participation rate that is much larger than the numbers who usually turn up to public consultation meetings.

The age of participants has moved down about twenty years in age compared with attendees at traditional public meetings, showing 40% of participants are under the age of 40.

The site asked people who responded to state their location, and this has shown that most respondents come from the three wards in which the funding will be spent. So people are engaging in their local area, but others are having their say too, just as intended, especially given one of the wards covers the city centre, used by pretty much all residents from time to time.

Gisborne District Council will be interested to know that a sizable proportion of the ideas submitted in Bristol turned out not to need funding at all, and could be undertaken right away. These ranged from some ideas actually being issues that could be passed on directly to council officers for action, to users being able to help each other. In one instance, a user suggested it would be good to fund having bus timetables on your mobile phone, and another replied saying that they’d already worked out how to do it, and gave instructions on how to do so!

The council has thus benefitted from another channel for receiving customer feedback as well as encouraging the wisdom of crowds, in addition to the benefits hoped for by the project itself.

Universal access to high speed broadband is fundamental to transforming the economic performance of Gisborne but a key question is whether or not prospective councilors and local voters consider this infrastructure essential for the future of our region.

Local Procurement for Local Employment

Responding to: “Council defends its ‘out-of-town’ spend” (Gisborne Herald 23/07/10)

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Responding to what he says is half-hearted interest in the issue by Gisborne District Council, city ward candidate Manu Caddie says if elected he will support the introduction of greater weightings to local economic benefit in Council procurement policy.
Mr Caddie has been working with an economist in Wellington to develop a transparent mechanism for procurement processes that give consideration to local employment benefits in addition to quality of service and overall price.
“Just because you can measure locality in different ways doesn’t mean you should ignore it” said Mr Caddie who believes Council has a dual role to get best value for ratepayers and to promote local prosperity and resilience.
“The most sustainable way to build  local prosperity is to reduce unemployment and improve social stability. Council and the District Health Board can play a valuable role in developing and retaining local expertise to grow industries”.
Mr Caddie supports the establishment of a section on the Council and DHB websites for companies interested in doing business with the local authorities.
“There needs to be an easy to understand explanation of the organisation’s commitment to doing business locally, a guide for interested providers and an enquiry form to express interest in working together.”
In the United Kingdom the government has introduced a successful Small Business (SME) Friendly Concordat that provides a set of principles for local authorities to support local businesses and a diverse marketplace.
“Well documented examples from all over the UK and other parts of the world show how local authorities can design and deliver procurement processes in ways that suit their circumstances and align with the goals of improved effectiveness, efficiency and local economy” said Mr Caddie.
Mr Caddie said he plans to present the proposal as part of his election ‘mini-manifesto’ to be released in August.
– – – – –

Cold comfort from Ministry of Economic Development

The Gisborne Herald Editorial on Saturday 10 July suggested that information provided by the Ministry of Economic Development should alleviate fears of a big oil spill in our waters. On the contrary, the surprising thing is how little concrete reassurance the MED information actually provides. I guess it is positive that the government is now willing to engage in a discussion with our community about the process they used for granting exploration rights for oil and gas off East Cape and the associated risk to our region.

MED quoting from Petrobras’ own website to justify its safety record reminds me of how Transocean Ltd, the operator of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, was also honoured by regulators for its safety record. The very day of the explosion, executives were aboard celebrating its seven straight years free of serious accidents!

While Petrobras say they are focused on gas reserves in the Raukumara Basin, we know the license is not restricted to gas exploration. The presence of oil in the area was a big selling point during the tendering process based on GNS seismic mapping and satellite imaging.

Is the Editorial’s claim that “the company now ranks well amongst its peers” supposed to give us confidence? Claiming that Petrobras is the biggest deep water oil producer in the world does not mean much given that the practice is so new and few companies are prepared to take the associated risks. The Gulf of Mexico disaster has demonstrated the inherent risk of any deep water drilling.

MED claims the statement that “The entire industry thought the BOP [blowout preventer] was adequate, but it wasn’t enough,” is unsupportable. The statement was made by Professor Segen Estefen from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro who actually tests this kind of equipment for Petrobras and other companies. He was not referring just to the BOP used by the Deepwater Horizon rig but to the technology in general. In a television interview just last week Estefen said the BOP failure was “a big surprise, because the state-of-the-art contingency plans didn’t work in very deep waters”.  He said most oil companies that he has contact with were shocked at BP’s repeated failures to cap its damaged well.

If MED are ‘monitoring the US response’ and think ‘Norway is one excellent forward model for New Zealand’ to emulate, why has our government not put a hold on exploration licences like those two countries have, until the investigation determines what went wrong?

I also wonder how much of the information provided through MED came from Hill and Knowlton, the PR company working for Petrobras. Just this year Hill and Knowlton was awarded a million dollar (per annum) contract with Petrobras specifically to help the company sanitise deep water drilling in the face of growing public and political opposition. This is the same PR company that represented the tobacco industry for years after the link between tobacco and cancer was proven and duped the American public into supporting the first invasion of Iraq by using false testimony at congressional hearings. Petrobras is the 34th largest corporation in the world – I wonder what East Coast communities could do with $1m per year for research and PR to oppose the drilling plans?

The one helpful piece of information supplied by MED was the industry training programme that will try to turn around the trend of importing qualified oil and gas workers from overseas. This piece of good news is however, small consolation given the enormity of the risk our region is being exposed to.

Gisborne-Napier Rail Fact Sheet

A document I compiled with assistance from the Campaign for Better Transport and distributed at today’s public meeting including Hawkes Bay mayors, Regional Transport Committee and Chamber of Commerce.

SUBSIDIES

  • The cost of maintaining the rail line is $2 million per year.
  • Roading is far more heavily subsidised than rail.[1]
  • The Ministry of Transport did a study in 2005 (currently being updated), which concluded that trucks only meet 56% of their costs while motorists pay 64%, buses pay 68% and rail 77%.[2]
  • Roading is NOT self funding through user charges. The shortfall is $1.5 billion per year for state highways, plus ratepayers fund local roads. So any official that claims that is completely incorrect.[3] That shortfall, made up by taxpayers, is already several times what is proposed to be spent on the rail operation and is far from the only taxpayer subsidy given to roads.
  • The government is planning to spend $21 billion on roads, local road networks are also heavily subsidised through local authority rates (about another $1 billion a year).[4]
  • There are the greater “externalities” of road transport that should also be factored in: road trauma ($3.5 billion), health problems caused by air pollution, noise, loss of amenity, severance of communities and damage to the environment (including greenhouse gas emissions, which have increased by more than 70 per cent since 1990).[5]
  • The cost of maintaining roads (excluding state highways) in the Gisborne region alone is $19.15M (incl. ratepayers contribution of $7.85M).[6]
  • The government will happily sink millions into the Hawkes Bay airport run way lengthening even though there are no airlines guaranteeing to bring in larger planes… or even if there is a market for larger aircraft at the airport. So if the government will take a gamble with that, why not invest in setting up a successful tourist rail service in the region?[7]
  • The government is spending over $40million straightening a short piece of the Napier-Gisborne highway which will result in a net travelling time gain of less than 60 seconds over a 3 hour journey time.[8]
  • Investing $2-10 million on the line would provide the Gisborne region with a line with higher increased speeds for trains. That includes some work on two tunnels (KiwiRail mentioned cost of around $200,000) to allow Hi Cube containers to be moved on rail instead of road (the trucking lobby will be worried about this).

POLITICAL INTERESTS & THE TRUCK LOBBY

  • Anne Tolley received a personal campaign donation of $5,000 from the trucking lobby group Road Transport Forum.[9]
  • The National government is committed to support the trucking industry which is one of the Party’s biggest campaign donors.[10]

EMPLOYMENT

  • A number of local roading contractors will lose their jobs shortly[11]. Having the rail line functional again would mean immediate and long term maintenance and logistics jobs for the region.

RAIL FREIGHT

  • Until Tranzrail killed off wagon loads out of Gisborne (1999-2001) the line had two return freight trains a day and one a day in weekends.[12]
  • Hikurangi Forest Farms new mill may generate enough product to fill 200 wagons a week and other exporters are also interested in the option of rail if it is competitively priced so there could be more than one ‘anchor’ client and the line shouldn’t depend just on HFF.
  • The train speed between these two cities is the same as trucks (and often better due to poor weather, ice and washouts on the state highway).
  • KiwiRail could run the line to the local business conditions. KiwiRail should have a sales manager based in Gisborne and Napier. They should load single wagons if clients only require that. They should have some contracting trucks to pick up freight from clients premises.
  • One train can carry the equivalent of 280 trucks or more. While road vehicle efficiency stagnated over the past 30 years, trains fuel efficiency has increased 104%.[13]
  • Currently the line has one freight train a week, sometimes two.

PASSENGER RAIL

  • It is the most scenic route in the North Island as the line runs along the East Coast, high on cliffs for much of the trip.
  • There is current demand for Gisborne-Napier passenger services and a number of bus services run between Gisborne-Napier (with trains going onwards to Palmerston North and Wellington) there really is no reason why passenger services could not be re-started.
  • Passenger rail demand on some lines has increased over 50% in the past 12 months according to Kiwirail figures.
  • Next year Tranz Scenic will have a number of spare large window carriages as new rolling stock arrives for the South Island long distance services).
  • Passenger rail has many advantages over buses – the scenery is far better (that’s why the Tranz Alpine train contributed to the end of bus services between Christchurch & Greymouth); on-train buffet car, toilet facilities, larger seats and tables for working while travelling, larger windows and open air viewing platforms; rail line has been less susceptible to closures/washouts than the highway.
  • A daily passenger train could also be used to haul some freight wagons (as the Northerner did until the 1990’s, and many trains do overseas) – this would mean more freight options for Gisborne clients.
  • Gisborne can benefit in more ways by keeping the rail line open and running better freight services. The passenger services will be the cream on the top to bring the region forward to more tourists, both domestically and internationally. Perhaps even Hawkes Bay airport would benefit with future airlines connecting from Australia, then passengers taking the scenic train service to Gisborne? The Tranz Alpine service was once almost about to close until one entrepreneurial staff member at NZ Railways came up with a tourist train. 20 years later it carries the most passengers out of all long distance trains! The same could be done on the Gis-Napier line thanks to its scenic opportunities.
  • The Dunedin City Council owned Tairei Gorge Railway, based on a scenic branch line out of Dunedin which was threatened with closure in 1990. It is now a highly popular and successful operation.

[1] NZTA report, Oct 2009

[2] www.transport.govt.nz/research/understandingtransportcostsandchargesuttc/

[3] NZ Herald, 22 June 2010

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6] GDC Annual Plan 2010-2011

[7] http://alturl.com/e2cf

[8] www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0902/S00145.htm

[9] www4.thestandard.org.nz/nats-still-involved-in-dodgy-donations/

[10] http://alturl.com/ys3z

[11] The Gisborne Herald, 21 June 2010

[12] The business case of using KiwiRail only for bulk freight came about during the failed “Beard Era” of chairmanship of Tranzrail (1999-2001). Beard, at great cost of traffic and revenues to Tranzrail, closed down freight terminals and sidings to factories throughout NZ. Just a few years earlier under chairmanship of Ed Burkhardt Tranzrail built the Gisborne line up to 20+ trains per week.

[13] http://alturl.com/j52k

Keep ECT under community control

The Council meeting on Thursday this week should be of interest to every resident of the region. At stake is over $200million in assets held by Eastland Community Trust on behalf of all Gisborne residents.

ECT Trustees want to change the rules that govern how they are appointed, they want to take the decision making away from Council as the sole decider of who should govern the Trust on behalf of the community.

The Trustees also want to limit the capital due back to GDC to the amount originally provided when ECT was established rather than the capital base that will have been grown by the time the Trust winds up.

And they want to make these big changes, at least one of which appears contrary to the rules under which the Trust was established, very quickly.

The report that Council CEO Lindsay McKenzie has put to Thursday’s meeting suggests Councillors don’t have to ask the community what our preferences are on these matters. He also expects to put new information before Councillors at the meeting on Thursday which the public will not have access to prior to the meeting. Mr McKenzie suggests Councillors take into consideration the views of their constituents, but given the rushed nature of this process, I wonder how those Councillors, who want to consult, could canvas a representative sample of residents in such a short time.

ECT say they want GDC out of the full control of Trustee appointment because it prevents ECT from being exempt from income tax on the profit made by the Trust’s investments. My first problem with this suggestion is that the only evidence presented on this being an accurate assessment of the situation has come from a lawyer acting on behalf of the Trustees. What GDC need to know is whether or not IRD and the Charities Commission will grant the Trust charitable status. The next problem with the proposal, if IRD say ECT can’t be income tax exempt, is whether the less than $1million the Trust would save in tax payments is worth losing democratic control of the Trust for. In a worst case future scenario we could see the Trust assets captured by a small group of ideologically motivated individuals who look after their mates at the expense of the region’s economic and social wellbeing.

ECT are proposing an electoral college structure with two appointments being made by the Trust and two coming from GDC with the fifth coming from the Law Society. They are justifying the need for more ECT membership of the electoral college on the grounds that ‘Trustee skills, acumen and contribution’ are conveyed and considered in the appointment process. I’m not sure why the Chairperson needs to be on the decision-making body, he or she is already able to convey their preferences and needs to the appointment panel under the current structure. Given the demographic imbalance of the Trustees to date, it is hard to see under-represented sectors of our community having a greater chance of being appointed as a Trustee under the proposed regime.

If the Trust did need to change the appointment process to become charitable, and if the benefits outweighed the costs of changing the process, a more effective way to choose Trustees could be through tri-annual elections that could be held at the same time as local authority elections. This would ensure we retain the principle of community control over the Trust.

ECT is the economic nest egg for future generations established with community resources and it needs to remain under community control for community benefit as long as it is in existence.

What we need is an independent regional think tank…

The quality and importance of a number of recent publications from the New Zealand Institute reminded me of the value of independent think tanks. I believe we need a regional equivalent – something like ‘The Gisborne Institute’.

The purpose of such an entity would be to stimulate debate and progress on critical issues facing the region and to influence regional leadership and policy-making – primarily on economic issues but also social, cultural and environmental development.

Such an institute would collect, analyse and promote the best thinking and evidence from local, national and international sources that can be used by everyone in the region to accelerate sustainable economic, social, cultural and environmental development.

To realise this kind of function and to retain any kind of independent voice it would need to be autonomous from but have constructive relationships with political institutions (regional authorities including Council, iwi organisations and central government), local business networks, special interest groups and political parties.

Why do we need an independent entity to stimulate thinking, debate and action? GDC does not have any spare change and is chronically under-resourced for the responsibilities it has to fulfill. Limitations exist within local authorities and interest groups to think outside the box and undertake the robust independent research and analysis required to find solutions to our most pressing issues.

We need locally focused thinking that isn’t constrained by the pressures on politicians and limitations on what they think is possible – even to investigate. We need good research on what works here and elsewhere that can be learned from and adapted to solve our problems.

The criteria for choosing issues to work on could be based on similar questions to the three that the New Zealand Institute uses:

  1. Does it matter? (Is it a critical issue for the future of the region?)
  2. Do we think we have something new/different and useful to say on the issue that others aren’t looking at?
  3. Is there a window of opportunity to make a difference? (What is happening in the current political/economic environment that would support or limit policy change on this issue?)

Critical issues facing the Gisborne/Tairawhiti region world may include things like:

– population change and positioning the region to attract talent (scientists, entrepreneurs, academics, etc.) and financial investment to support the innovation and development these highly skilled people often need to realise their ideas;

– managing environmental changes including planning for the impact of rapid oil price rises on the region, carbon credit trading, hill country erosion control and the maximising productive use of available land and water resources in the region;

–  increasing net inflows of money to the region from external sources without compromising the assets of the region – primarily through more high value goods and services being sold to customers outside the region;

– cost of living issues including housing affordability and rising fuel and electricity prices;

– reducing disparities in health and education – particularly for young Maori;

– better alignment between the workforce needs of high value industries and training opportunities available to residents;

– the digital divide and the quality/rate of telephone/broadband access in the region.

Such an entity could initially employ just one full time researcher/advisor with a discretionary budget for expert assistance on specific projects, communications and administration overheads.

The institute could exist as a stand-alone organisation or it could be connected to, but at arms length from, the Eastland Community Trust.

A small governance group with representatives from the business and community sectors would oversee the institute with advisory members from the education, cultural and environmental sectors.

My Priorities

These are the things I think are important and would strive to promote if I was elected to Council next year…

  1. A region that values the rich traditions and diversity of all its residents.
  2. A region of safe communities based on caring relationships between families.
  3. A region that fosters innovation, enterprise, the creative sectors and scientific discovery.
  4. A region that nurtures well-educated young people and leaves no one behind.
  5. A region that is a magnet for young families and values the contributions of older people.
  6. A region that will leave the natural environment better than we found it.
  7. A region that is committed to ensuring housing, energy and healthy food are affordable and that supports families to manage their finances wisely.
  8. A region that understands the importance of increasing the economic productivity and sustainability of agriculture, horticulture and forestry.
  9. A region that promotes the use of cycling and walking for most people making short journeys.
  10. A region that is well connected with the rest of the planet through low-cost, high-speed, internet access.
  11. A Council that encourages public participation in decision-making.
  12. A Council that is able to keep any rates increases at (or below) the rate of inflation while still providing quality services and infrastructure.

Transition Tairawhiti?

TTmed

About 15 people in Gisborne met on 24 August 2009 and agreed that it would be good to see Gisborne/Tairawhiti become a ‘Transition Town’.

Most of the group have read the book and are committed to forming a steering group that plans it’s own demise, sees the community run their ideas, etc.

We are keen to build on the success of the World Environment Day event in Gisborne this year and build a wide support base across the community to promote the Transition Towns principles and inclusive action for positive change.

– – – –

POSTSCRIPT: Check out the TT website with resources and events at: www.transitiontowns.org.nz/gisborne

 

 

Local Leakage

EC-686.fig1

Congratulations to the new Bunnings store on their opening of a ‘community friendly’ business. They did a great PR job. While it may be true that 50 ‘new’ jobs have been ‘created’, selling the same stuff in a community that already has businesses selling those products doesn’t create new jobs, it simply shifts the employment from one company to another… the equivalent of 50 people will lose their jobs because the demand for the product has not increased.

What this kind of change does is increase financial ‘leakage’ from the community as locally owned businesses shut down because the out-of-town and overseas owned companies take most of the money we spend out of the community instead of it being reinvested locally.

The simple economics suggest a net loss to communities when retail businesses who take profits out of the community replace locally owned shops. The more times a dollar is spent in a local location and the faster it circulates the more income, wealth and jobs there are in that location

Michael Shuman, author of “Going Local. Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age”, cites a number of recent studies that have shown how a dollar spent at locally owned businesses will deliver two to four times the economic impact of a dollar spent in businesses owned outside the community.

In recent presentations Shuman has criticised politicians for focusing on how to attract and retain large corporations and failing to champion the development and retention of small local businesses.

Shuman argues that local businesses produce better economic results for communities for three main reasons: 1. They stay put – they don’t usually have big ambitions for growth or need to manufacture goods offshore; 2. They spend more of their money locally – they use local business services like lawyers, stationary suppliers and advertising and any profits are retained locally; 3. There are significant environmental benefits from shifting our diets to eat more local produce and less imported food – packaging, carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption are all reduced when we eat locally.

Our region would benefit from better use of the $700m we take home in annual household income. It would be good to see an organisation like ECT investigate the opportunities associated with the establishment of a regional bank similar to the Taranaki Savings Bank in an effort to keep finances within the region rather than send both our savings and interest payments off-shore. Other communities in similar situations to our own have successfully created local currencies, local stocks and local exchanges (one recent example is: www.thelewespound.org). By spending local money in local outlets we can strengthen the relationships between local shopkeepers and the community. It also supports people finding new ways to make a living.

It may be useful if the Economic Development Unit at Council could provide ongoing analysis on the amount of financial leakage from our community to non-local business and to see Council adopt some concrete plans to reduce the leakage.

Letter to the Editor – Endless Summer or Last of the Summer Wine?

gisborne

Recent Statistics NZ projections that Gisborne is likely to have a lower population in 20 years time should come as no surprise. That we are likely to have the fourth highest rate of population decline should be concerning and something everyone in the region is committed to reversing.

I’m yet to see a clearly articulated strategy for attracting people to relocate themselves, their families and business to our great region.

The first place to start would be with the upwardly mobile young people who grew up and left to study, work and/or explore the world. One such young man recently contacted me from Queenstown and said he would love to live in Gisborne again. He thought more young people and families would choose to make the move if the following things were addressed:

  1. providing low cost, reliable access to high quality broadband and mobile coverage across the whole district;
  2. cheaper transport by air and rail in and out of the region;
  3. enhancements to lifestyle amenities like recreation facilities, cafes and entertainment options;
  4. promotion of the relatively low cost of land and houses in the region.

I would add to the list a proper analysis of the benefits of doing business in the Gisborne region compared to Auckland, Hawkes Bay and the Bay of Plenty. This analysis would include the cost of labour, rental comparisons for offices and warehouse space, road use intensity, port charges and education profiles.

It is encouraging to see the “Endless Summer” brochure going into Air New Zealand planes over the next three months, but I can’t help thinking this needs to be connected into a much longer and more strategic plan to carefully position the regional profile with potential residents and visitors. Such a strategy could be something that all of us understand and support for the future of this place we call home.

Council Draft 10 Year Plan Submissions

Here are some of the submissions I helped prepare on the Council’s Draft 10 Year Plan – opportunities to speak to the submissions come up in early June:

Meng’s New Year Vision

225px-mengfoon

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.