If the Gore district’s leaders needed any validation they were on to a good thing with the Ready for Growth project, they got it this month from former Prime Minister and new Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit Sir William English.
Guest speaker at the second workshop for action teams, Sir William said the community was on the right track with the project.
Ready for Growth is a community-led initiative focusing on the district’s economic and social aspirations and goals.
Its aim is to grow the district’s population by 1500 people by 2030.
Sir William believed the community should give itself credit for the way it had dealt with various demographic and economic changes in the last 25 years, such as the closure of the Carter Holt Harvey paper mill in Mataura.
“This is a very resilient community; one way or another, people have found their own paths,” Sir William said.
“You have dealt with all sorts of changes quite successfully – we have seen, over time, a greater ability for people to work together,” he said.
Sir William stressed the importance of a strong relationship with iwi when it came to regional development. The district has the benefit of one of the better organised iwi in Ngai Tahu.
“It is very focused on what happens community by community.”
He warned the Gore gathering against being too charmed by the Government’s new Provincial Growth Fund. The temptation was that somehow money and the Government would produce something magical that was not there before.
“They won’t – you are the magic”, he said.
Sir William said he was more optimistic than some people about population growth, based on two factors.
First was the significant change brought about by the unforeseen impact of more people aged over 60 staying in the workforce.
“There’s a lot more people working, so the economy is a lot bigger than we thought it would be.”
Second was the desire of many city dwellers to live in small towns, although critical to this was high-speed connectivity.
The overflow from cities was spilling into provincial New Zealand, as people realised the advantages in taking their job to a place with not too much traffic and affordable housing.
“These are all advantages you can play to – it’s great to see you having a crack at it.”
Ready for Growth project chairman Richard McPhail said it was great for the group to have Sir William at the workshop.
“He provided some really good discussion.”
His comments about community and being self-sufficient were especially valuable, he said.
“He does have a big interest in communities,” he said.
Sir William knew the Gore district very well, as he was Clutha-Southland MP for 24 years, he said.