Speech to Wellington Regional Assembly

  • Michael Cullen

21 December 2004Speech Notes
Embargoed until: 4.10pm Tuesday 21 December 2004 Speech to Wellington Regional Assembly MeetingIlott Theatre, Town Hall Complex, Wellington

Thank you for your invitation to address today’s regional assembly. Much of your discussion today has to do with advancing the Wellington Regional Strategy. This is one of a number of initiatives across the country in which groups of local authorities are coordinating their future planning and seeking ways to work together to address economic, environmental and social issues.

This is a very encouraging trend. We have in New Zealand a population that is growing in size and changing in composition. Exactly the same can be said of our economy. Growth has remained remarkably strong during the course of the last five years, and there have been significant shifts in the structure of our economy, exemplified by the recent study of the food and beverage industry which found that, for the first time, value-added exports represented more than half the value of our total food exports.

The region represented here today has a robust and diverse economy, spanning the financial and government service industries in Wellington city, significant light manufacturing and IT industries, the expanding horticulture, viticulture and aquaculture industries in the Kapiti, Wairarapa, Marlborough and Nelson regions, and of course the creative industries.

Indeed, economic activity in the Wellington region increased 1.8 per cent in the September quarter, which is the largest quarterly rise posted by the region in five years. Consumer confidence is at an 8-year high, and tops the country. Employment rose 2.3 per cent in the quarter, more than twice the national figure, and there were increases in car registrations, accommodation guest nights, retail sales, and dwelling approvals.

This strong performance is an ideal platform on which to address the growth potential that is still untapped and to maintain a focus on the quality of life that attracts people to the region.

This is where a regional strategy becomes very important. It is important that local government adapts itself to economic and social changes, and that inevitably means being aware of what is happening across territorial boundaries and alert to both the opportunities of cooperative action and the risks of the failure to take such action.

What we have seen in the past two decades is an evolution away from what was a parochial system, both literally, in the sense of small fiefdoms that one could walk around in a day, and in the metaphorical sense of a system that encouraged blinkered thinking and led to second-best options when there were clear gains to be made from cooperation.

While the process for amalgamating local authorities and clarifying mandates is essentially complete, there remains a need for councils to seek out those areas in which developing a larger framework for action can add value to their ability to serve their constituencies. Councils have a mandate to engage with regional and national issues, and to find collective ways of addressing them.

This is also crucial from a central government perspective, especially with respect to infrastructure planning. As you will know, the government and Wellington’s regional and local councils are currently working through the details of a transport package for the Wellington region. This represents an important step forward – outside of the consideration of particular projects – by placing the focus on linking transport strategy with a regional economic development strategy.

Whatever emerges from these discussions needs to be seen in the context of the increases to land transport funding in Wellington in recent years. During 2004/05, $104.7 million will be spent on land transport projects in the region, compared to just $60.8 million in 1998/99. Over the next ten years, the region will also benefit from $442 million in spending on State Highways plus $220 million across all areas of land transport from the regional funding package announced earlier this year.

Transport is of course only one area of infrastructure needing attention, and my government is engaged on a number of fronts that are of active concern to many councils.

For example, growing populations and thriving industries create pressures on our water system, both the supply of fresh water and the management of storm water and waste.

Recently we released a discussion document on finding the best ways to manage New Zealand's freshwater resources sustainably. The discussion document outlines the different ways in which New Zealanders value and use freshwater and how New Zealand's water is managed presently and the pressures and challenges facing our water management system.

It also outlines the government’s preliminary thinking in response to today's challenges to managing water resources, canvassing a range of ideas and possible actions.

Infrastructure issues such as these have been an important driver behind the recently-completed review of the Resource Management Act. As you will know, we need to develop coordinated planning processes that address those projects that span several TLAs in terms of their impact and their benefits, often with the impact being felt somewhere distant to where the benefit is concentrated. What we have been seeking in the review is, among other things, the capacity to direct additional resources and, within limits, to customise processes to ensure that the interests of the various parties are dealt with fairly and expeditiously.

In the last few weeks, legislation setting out a comprehensive package of improvements to the working of the Resource Management Act has been introduced to Parliament. The Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill is about improving the operation of the RMA focusing on improving the quality of decisions and processes by increasing certainty, reducing costs and delays, and improving processes.

We are committed to protecting and preserving the unique aspects of New Zealand's natural environment. That means striking the right balance between our desire for a clean, healthy environment with our expectations for growth and opportunity. The measures in the Bill seek to reduce delays, eliminate unnecessary costs and ensure full opportunities for participation by affected parties.

Of course, perfecting decision-making processes is only one part of the picture. The task you have set yourself today is to get to grips with both process and substance in providing leadership to the communities that make up the greater Wellington region.

That leadership role is exactly what was envisaged by the new Local Government Act which my government enacted in 2002. Under that Act, local government has more flexibility than ever before to make decisions and take action. It has a responsibility to govern for the future as well as the present, and it has a responsibility to govern in consultation with communities, instead of just on behalf of them.

We need local government to define community aspirations, facilitate joint action by business groups, charitable and community trusts, and work with central government agencies in jointly achieving community outcomes. Certainly the experience my government has had in developing partnerships with regional groupings of councils on key issues has been fruitful, as demonstrated by the significant progress that has been made on resolving the Auckland region’s transport problems.

So with that I trust that today’s assembly has been a productive one which has generated new ideas and a strengthened commitment to achieve the shared objectives of your communities.

Thank you.