Wielding our SoRDS and stepping up
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