By Tenby Powell, Mayor of Tauranga
As I write this column, it’s another beautiful, clear winter’s day in Tauranga, the sun sparkling on the harbour in the distance. You could almost think all is well with the world.
Of course, we know that’s far from the reality.
New Zealand’s ‘team of 5 million’ has eradicated the Covid-19 virus – a feat which has gained worldwide attention, and rightly so. Now we have to maintain our border defences to keep it out and ensure there’s no resurgence in community transmission.
And, we have to begin the long task of repairing our economy and recovering from the combined impacts of the pandemic lockdown, alert level restrictions and the ongoing closure of our borders to non-residents.
Those impacts vary across the country, depending on regional export industry dependencies and exposure to international tourism, but no-one is unscathed.
Here in the western Bay of Plenty, we have been relatively fortunate. Our kiwifruit and dairy industries have not been significantly impacted and forestry activities were quick to return to normal.
But nearly all of our small-to-medium enterprises have taken a major hit. The Government’s economic support measures have helped a lot, but our community – like most around the country – is hurting.
With the Transition to level 1 restrictions last month, significantly sooner than had initially been expected, something like normal business activities resumed, but it will take time and commitment to make-up the lost ground.
Regrettably, some businesses will not ‘live to fight another day’ and the effect of business closures and reduced staffing numbers in many parts of the economy will impact our employment levels.
Recovering from recession will require the combined efforts of central and local government and it’s encouraging to see the focus that has been placed on accelerating infrastructure investment, because that will not only deliver lasting benefits to communities, but will create and sustain jobs at a time when we desperately need them.
Tauranga submitted more than $1 billion of potential ‘shovel-ready’ projects for Crown Infrastructure Partnership consideration and we’re looking forward to hearing which will make the cut for Government funding.
Our focus has been squarely on projects which will support the availability of much-needed land for housing; provide transportation and Three Waters infrastructure that will meet our pressing growth needs; allow the development of key community facilities; and above all else, will create meaningful local employment.
Like other fast-growth centres, Tauranga City Council is constrained in the new debt it can raise to fund infrastructure, but the LGFA move to increase the debt-to-revenue borrowing limit from 250 percent to 300 percent for the next two years will provide the headroom we need to co-invest with the Government and help get our regional economy going again.
The sooner we know which projects will be supported and what the details of the co-investment arrangements will be, the easier it will be to factor these projects in to our current annual planning arrangements.
With our regional partners, we’re also heartened to see the Government commitment to transportation improvements in our area. With the $450 million Tauranga western link project due to kick-off later this year and another half-billion dollars of investment to follow in upgrading SH2, we’re well-placed to deal with some of our longstanding regional roading issues.
The role of teamwork in the success of our pandemic eradication efforts is worth dwelling upon, because teamwork will undoubtedly play a significant part in the success of our economic recovery – locally, regionally and nationally.
This is a time to put aside differences and focus on the common goals that will deliver the best results for our communities and regions.
It’s a time to roll-up our sleeves and work together at a council level, inter-council level and local and central government level.
There’s much to be done – let’s get on with it. Kia kaha Aotearoa.