Big opportunities, big responsibilities - we must get it right

19 Feb 2020, 9:36 AM

Five massive infrastructure projects, already the backbone of a Mayoral ‘Kia Kaha Northland’ campaign, will also strengthen Northland’s position as a growth region, the Northland Regional Council says.“Councillors welcome and support the government’s investment in our regional infrastructure, which has suffered from years of under-investment by successive governments,” says Chair Penny Smart.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and we’re in a rare position to get a whole lot of things right at once so that future generations can look back at this time as a very positive turning point for the region.”

The funded projects are:

  • four-laning of State Highway One from Whangārei to Marsden Pt, and
  • Improvements to the region’s rail link.

Penny Smart.Northland Regional Council Chair, Penny Smart.

Additionally, expansion of Northport to enable international port operations to be relocated from Auckland’s CBD, relocation of the Royal New Zealand Navy base from Auckland to Whangārei, and a dry dock to enable large ship repairs has been mooted.

All five initiatives have been picked-up by the region’s Mayors. However, as the majority shareholder in Marsden Maritime Holdings and an environmental regulator, the Northland Regional Council needs to maintain a level of separation.

“Our council believes this is important,” says Chair Smart. “We know that lines have to be drawn clearly from the outset to preserve our integrity as a regulator and investor. We’re looking at some very complex issues and there’s lots we don’t yet know.”

The regional council has long recognised the tension between economic development and environmental sustainability and seeks to manage this in such a way that growth doesn’t happen at the expense of our environment.

“This will always be a focus for us,” says Chair Smart. “Growth needs to be sustainable, well planned and, along with our economic and environmental wellbeing, must also consider social and cultural factors. It’s not an either-or situation, but rather a melding of these four vital well-beings.”

What’s best for Te Taitokerau as a whole – both the region and its people – is what matters most, regional councillors believe.

For example, the social needs of an expanding population need to be carefully managed, such as schools, hospitals and recreational space, and protecting the unique environment of Whangārei Harbour needs to be an integral part of the equation.

The council has been working together with tangata whenua and communities for years to improve the harbour and doesn’t want to lose ground on those gains.

“Protecting our harbour is just one example of how we need to work alongside central government and other agencies to ensure that any big infrastructure projects align with the needs and aspirations of tangata whenua and our communities, as well as upholding our environmental responsibilities,” Chair Smart says.

“As a council with a key part to play, we look forward to actively working with tangata whenua, our wider community, central government and key partners to consider these opportunities in more detail and how these can be advanced to the best benefit of our region.”