Wield­ing our SoRDS and step­ping up

The Southland Times - - COMMENT&OPINION -

It’s South­land’s time to step up as a re­gion and we need ev­ery­one to do their bit. You’ve prob­a­bly read a bit about the South­land Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Strat­egy (SoRDS) dur­ing the past few months - and that the plan is start­ing to kick into ac­tion.

As a com­mu­nity, we need to progress the plan as quickly as we can be­cause we don’t want South­land to be a pos­sum in the head­lights when it comes to re­gional de­vel­op­ment.

It’s taken nine months to get agree­ment from all South­land’s coun­cils - and I’m de­lighted the In­ver­cargill City Coun­cil is now up with the play.

The South­land May­oral Fo­rum, which rep­re­sents all South­land coun­cils - En­vi­ron­ment South­land, In­ver­cargill City, Gore District and South­land District - ini­ti­ated and has been lead­ing the work on SoRDS dur­ing the past cou­ple of years.

Like many re­gions, South­land faces so­cial and eco­nomic pres­sures with an age­ing pop­u­la­tion and the ur­ban drift af­fect­ing most re­gions in New Zealand.

A de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tion re­duces our skill base and ac­cess and fund­ing to so­cial ser­vices such as health­care.

SoRDS sets a new and clear di­rec­tion for the whole re­gion. Its pri­mary aim is to in­crease the re­gion’s pop­u­la­tion by 10,000 by 2025 and its ac­tion plan in­cludes sev­eral eco­nomic, so­cial, cul­tural, ed­u­ca­tional and en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives.

The ac­tion plan has iden­ti­fied the po­ten­tial for greater di­ver­sity and growth. We need a stronger ur­ban cul­ture, new in­dus­tries, the abil­ity to ex­tend our ex­ist­ing in­dus­tries, and a strong so­cial sec­tor.

In the South­land district, we are fo­cused par­tic­u­larly on ex­tend­ing and grow­ing the value of our pri­mary, tourism and aqua­cul­ture in­dus­tries.

South­land has changed a lot dur­ing the past few decades and the SoRDS plan has as­sessed th­ese changes and out­lined many spe­cific and broad-based projects to pur­sue. Telling the South­land story in a more com­pelling way is im­por­tant, and South­land District Coun­cil’s re­brand - to be un­veiled next month - is a big part of this. Watch this space.

Many ini­tia­tives and projects are un­der way to help drive the plan and, at a strate­gic level, we’re fo­cused on how we’re go­ing to at­tract peo­ple south, where we’re go­ing to house them, and what they will be do­ing here.

As an ex­am­ple, I was re­ally im­pressed with the re­cent em­ploy­ment pop-up shop ini­ti­ated by Ven­ture South­land’s Paul Cas­son. It was an ex­cel­lent ini­tia­tive around pro­mot­ing the job and ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able in the south.

While ur­ban drift from re­gion is an on­go­ing is­sue, I have no­ticed peo­ple drift­ing back from con­gested ur­ban cen­tres where life­style squeeze is prov­ing too much. Queen­stown is in this cat­e­gory, with its work­force and ac­com­mo­da­tion is­sues. As a district, we need to be aware and have a plan for at­tract­ing peo­ple look­ing for a more ful­fill­ing life­style.

When­ever I spend any time in the North Is­land, I pick up a very dif­fer­ent feel­ing among peo­ple there.

They seem frus­trated with their lot in life.

We’re all busy with work and other com­mit­ments - but we seem to have a bit more space and time to en­joy the things we en­joy, such as hang­ing out with fam­ily and friends.

South­land needs to be putting its best foot for­ward to at­tract peo­ple look­ing for a bet­ter life­style - and that’s what SoRDS is all about.

To achieve this we need to take an all-of-South­land ap­proach and work to­gether - lo­cal gov­ern­ment, iwi, the com­mu­nity and busi­ness in­ter­ests. Re­ly­ing on in­di­vid­ual en­ti­ties to turn the sit­u­a­tion around is not re­al­is­tic.

I’d like to thank South­land May­oral Fo­rum chair­man Tracy Hicks and SoRDS Gov­er­nance Group chair­man Tom Camp­bell for their suc­cinct and knowl­edge­able lead­er­ship as the ac­tion plan came to­gether last year.

SoRDS pro­gramme man­ager Sarah Brown and pro­gramme di­rec­tor Sarah Han­nan need to be con­grat­u­lated on the moun­tain of work they have put in, of­ten in the back­ground.

In or­der to suc­cess­fully im­ple­ment SoRDS, the South­land May­oral Fo­rum has agreed to a pro­posal to form an or­gan­i­sa­tion that will bring to­gether all the rel­e­vant in­ter­ests to lead re­gional and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing tourism.

Sev­eral pro­pos­als were con­sid­ered. The strong­est pro­posal unan­i­mously pre­ferred by all coun­cils was a coun­cil-con­trolled or­gan­i­sa­tion.

In ad­di­tion to lead­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of SoRDS and its Ac­tion Plan ini­tia­tives, the coun­cil-con­trolled or­gan­i­sa­tion would ini­tially in­cor­po­rate Ven­ture South­land, in­clud­ing its staff and its re­gional and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­i­ties. How­ever, it would have a broader com­mu­nity base of sup­port and wider fo­cus.

To me the pro­posal rep­re­sents the views of the four coun­cils whilst giv­ing the new agency more scope and di­rec­tion, with a wider sup­port base from peo­ple with skin in the game.

Please let us know what you think about the pro­posal - sub­mis­sions are open un­til Oc­to­ber 2. We want to hear from you.

Gary Tong is the South­land District Mayor

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