March 2016 - Chairman's Report

17 Mar 2016, 9:31 AM

Northland Economic Action Plan. The recently announced Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Development Action Plan (TTNEAP) has been widely welcomed throughout the region and by central government as a pathway for our region to begin to play its rightful part in the New Zealand economy. As with all plans, putting the plan into action is really the part that matters.

It is no accident that infrastructure and skills head the list of priorities. Without enabling infrastructure and a skilled workforce, the private sector will not be persuaded to invest in the region, and without access to clean and adequate water supplies, good sewage systems, decent healthcare services, and other social infrastructure, people will not want to live and work in our region.

At a recent combined councils' strategic governance meeting in Waitangi, New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) officials credited the new wave of collaboration between all of local government in Northland as a significant driver behind getting recognition from central government of the need to redress the significant underinvestment in Northland roads that dates back decades.

NZTA's programme 'Connecting Northland' describes how the 2015–18 Regional Land Transport Plan will deliver $460 million of total investment, including $194 million for local roads, $117 million for state highway maintenance and operations, $90 million for state highway improvements (and possibly more), $37 million for local road improvements, $6 million for public transport services, $5 million for cycling and walking improvements, and $5 million for road safety promotion.

In particular, NZTA funding for maintenance and operations of local roads and state highways is up 24% compared with the whole of New Zealand increase of 6%. This significant increase above the national average would not have been possible without the collaboration of all of the councils in Northland!

Air services and potential coastal shipping services will have a significant part to play. The potential for rail is a little less clear. KiwiRail currently loses significant money on the Northland Auckland line which currently carries just 2% of Northland's freight. So the future of rail in the region depends largely on whether or not central government is prepared to keep subsidising the losses.

I welcome the release of the Auckland Council report on future port requirements for the Auckland region, which flags the potential for Northport to play a more significant part in the Upper North Island freight story in the future. If Northport is to provide a viable option for some of the trade currently going through Ports of Auckland, then an enhanced transport link becomes even more essential.

Rising confidence in investing in Northland was amply demonstrated by the recent opening of the BOC carbon dioxide plant at Marsden Point. This plant takes carbon dioxide that would have gone to waste, up the oil refinery chimney stack and cleans and compresses it for industrial use. Admirable recycling of a greenhouse gas.

Still on the theme of collaboration, I was delighted to witness the tremendous amount of goodwill that was expressed at a meeting at the Roma Marae in Ahipara recently. This was the first meeting between the Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē settlement parties, the Far North District Council, and Northland Regional Council representatives that will make up the new 90 Mile Beach Board. If that goodwill is reflected in the work of the new board, then the future of the iconic 90 Mile Beach is in good hands.

Bill Shepherd
Chairman, Northland Regional Council