Greg Lang, the first term mayor of Carterton, a small rural town in the central North Island talks with Richard Silcock about his role representing a small community at a turning point in its growth.
The Carterton district in the Wairarapa covers an area of 1180 kilometres and stretches from the Tararua Ranges in the west to the eastern boundary at Flat Point on the Pacific coast. It has an urban population of just over 5850 and a territorial population of just under 10,000.
This is Greg Lang’s first term as mayor, having been a councillor on the Carterton District Council since 2013.
He says his role involves understanding the local community, its issues, listening to what people are saying, having an open door policy and being an advocate for the district.
“Our population is pretty diverse as we are a pretty big far-flung district, with a population that is both rural farming and increasingly urban.
“The township has traditionally been a service town for the local farming community. It is unpretentious with many of the shops and colonial buildings having retained their historic facades and character with some having also retained the old timber floors and corrugated verandas supported by the original cast iron poles.
“We are on the cusp of development with new shops and cafes opening up in the town and have a community of like-minded people and artisans, who, like me want to see the town prosper, become more vibrant and be a destination in its own right.
“There are a number of new sub-divisions springing up and many new houses and life-style blocks being built, making it one of the most rapidly expanding small towns in the country.
“Many residents commute on a daily basis to Wellington for work either by train or car, preferring the semi-rural life the town provides as a place to live, relax and send their children to school. There’s a strong sense of community spirit and involvement within our district, a fact that is supported by there being 174 community groups within the district.
“For me, Carterton and the surrounding rural area is a fantastic place to live and work. I’ve lived here for 20 years and love it.
“At the council, we refer to the four pillars that are the common threads of our various communities and the attributes that bring us together as one. These are: Our people; being connected; being green-hearted; and equal representation.
“The Carterton DC is a small council dealing with both existing and future growth and with this comes some challenges. I see these challenges as opportunities and part of this is ensuring we work together with the other Wairarapa councils for the benefit of the whole region.
“I was a strong advocate for the amalgamation of the three councils when this was being discussed and voted on some years back as it makes good economic sense to combine our various strengths and not duplicate our administrations. There are some big issues coming up for the Wairarapa and we would be better placed to address these as one coordinated voice.
“We have already shown how successful this can be through our combined work on the Wairarapa Economic Development Strategy which has helped us secure around $10 million of the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund along with other ‘external’ funding.
“This has allowed us to progress the Five Town Trails Network, which has been identified as a regionally significant project that will contribute to the region’s economic development. It will, when completed in a couple of years’ time, connect the towns of the Wairarapa with a shared walk/cycleway and link up with the existing trail over the Rimutakas from the Hutt Valley and Wellington.
“As a part of this development, we are building one of the longest suspension bridges in the country over the Tauherenikau River and to cater for the increasing population and growth in housing we have recently completed an upgrade of the WWTP at the southern end of the town and are looking at alternative ways to discharge effluent.
“Like any town in New Zealand, we do have some unemployment issues and we are working with local employers to help minimise this where practical. We have set up a task force to address this issue with the aid of $250,000 from the Government.
“We are also opening up the CBD and maximising the potential for having a more vibrant town by redeveloping the many laneways around the town and encouraging the artisan, second hand, antique and hospitality communities to set up trendy shops to display their art and wares and open cafes along similar lines to what you find in places like Melbourne.
“This had been led to some degree by the need for some of the colonial buildings along the High Street to be earthquake strengthened, for in the process of doing this work there is the opportunity for further development to take place.
“We have a comparatively new and award winning Events Centre in the centre of town and this has proven to be a great success with regular cultural events being held along with it being available to local groups to stage productions or hold other activities and exhibitions.”
On the touchy issue of the Government’s three waters reform, Greg says he is in favour as he believes it will future-proof and provide needed water infrastructure for the town and district.
“Long term, it will make water infrastructure more affordable, ensure the quality of the water delivered and help to meet future environmental challenges and standards. The sooner we [Carterton district] open our eyes and embrace this change the more chance we have to turn perceived challenges into opportunities.”
Greg balances his role as mayor with that of operating a business and his family and concedes that holding public office is very time consuming and is almost 24/7.
“Along with my wife Ali we own and operate a wheelwright business specialising in producing traditional wooden wheels for carriages, and also building or refurbishing carriages and carts.
“Some of the highlights have been working for the film industry creating wheels and carriages for some of Sir Peter Jackson’s films and other productions like Warrior Princess. We are presently refurbishing an old Wellington horse drawn tram for a transport museum.”
In his spare time, which Greg says he doesn’t have much of these days, training for triathlons is at the top of his list and he has competed in a number of events around the country from time-to-time.
Originally called Three Mile Bush (on account of it being a stage coach watering stop) Carterton was named after Charles Carter in 1857. He was an early settler and a pioneer in the region who was seen as a developer of the farming industry and instigator for opening up the region with the building of roads and bridges.
Beef, lamb, wool, and dairy were once the original mainstay, however more latterly there is a gradual change to vineyards, olive orchards, deer and goat farming along with a rapidly growing honey industry and the commercial cultivation of mushrooms.
Carterton was one of the first to hold a weekly farmers market in the town square and is known throughout the country as the daffodil capital of NZ with many visitors flocking to the district in early spring to view the acres of blooms (pre-Covid). The library has the distinction of being the oldest purpose built library still in use in the country.
Perhaps fitting, then, that its future is currently in the hands of a wheelwright with an appreciation of the district’s past and future.
“My ambition for my time as Mayor is to make Carterton resilient, affordable and a place where talent and enterprise can thrive together,” he tells me.
“I want to help join the dots as it were and to create opportunities. When I hand over my mayoral chain I hope to have made a contribution to the town.” LG