03 July 2017

Chamber of Commerce respond to questions over inner city development

The Southland Chamber of Commerce has acknowledged it is in a tug of war with the Invercargill City Council over the pace of inner city development.

The divide between the two groups was highlighted by a private email from a chamber director, accidently sent to the Southland Times, which was critical of the council’s progress in developing the city.

On June 9, The Southland Times asked the chamber to clarify its official position on the situation.

The Southland Times asked the chamber what its official position was on the performance of the city council in regards to the inner-city development, what role the chamber has had in fostering inner city development in recent years, if Venture Southland has been effective in achieving the goals it was established for, whether the chamber agrees with the establishment of the new regional development agency and what role the chamber might have in it, if an increased focus on tourism will be beneficial to the inner city and if there is a division within the chamber regarding the criticism of the mayor and the city council relating to inner city development.

Chamber president Carla Forbes responded to the questions following her return from a business trip to New York.

Forbes said while there was a “push and pull” between the private and public sector, she stopped short of making a judgement on the council’s progress.

“Southland urgently needs to provide a vibrant and welcoming reception area for locals and visitors to enjoy.

“The business community requires swift movement; and public sector are required to follow bureaucratic process.

“We understand this, but our role is to advocate, and at times push.”

As for the performance of Venture Southland, Forbes said establishing a new regional development agency would be better placed to make progress.

“Venture Southland has had some significant successes.

“We believe having a governance group of experienced directors appointed with the involvement of, and accountable back to, all the key stakeholders rather than just the Councils, will empower the Regional Development Agency to deliver exceptional results.”

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt said while he disagreed with some of the criticisms made in the original email, it was better for the public debate.

“I think criticism is good, it shows to me an example of a genuine belief.

“The thing is when an email goes astray, which wasn’t actually meant to be part of the debate, it’s actually a much more honest response you get.

“In that regard, at least it cleared the air, here was someone speaking exactly how they felt – I prefer that to doublespeak.”

Shadbolt said while progress on projects like the new regional development agency had been slow, he was confident the situation would be resolved soon.

“Although it doesn’t feel like it at the moment – as there’s a lot of tension and argy-bargy – there’s basic agreement about having a [new agency].

“All we’re doing is arguing over the terms and conditions, and i think we’ll come out of at the end of the day stronger.

“Businesses have different ways of resolving issues and councils are a bit slow and a bit cautious, and often the things they’re discussing seem to attract huge coverage and criticism.

“Whereas you see the private sector just tend to get on with the job and not have to worry about things like consultation.”

Mayoral Forum committee chairman Tracy Hicks said a final decision on the structure of the new agency was still not decided, but said he would be making a statement on the situation next Friday.

“It’s been a long process, and a bit of a frustrating one, but I feel that we are making progress.”