14 July 2017

Southland leaders react to announcement of new regional development agency

Debates over levels of council control have been the main reason for the slow progress of Southland’s new regional development agency.

On July 13, the Southland Mayoral Forum agreed on a proposed organisation to lead regional growth, as part of a regional strategy to attract 10,000 people to the region by 2025.

While all the members of the mayoral forum said they were happy to have come to a final decision, there was also an acknowledgment the process had taken longer than expected.

The primary cause of the hold-up stemmed from the Invercargill City Council’s concerns over its levels of influence in the new organisation.

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt said it was important that the city council maintained a proportional level of shareholding influence.

“The issue was about control and the principles of control.

“We felt that as Invercargill was the biggest contributor to the new organisation, we should have a reasonable, not total, level of control, because we’re taxing our people to collect that money, and we’ve got to ensure the representation is fair.”

In documents on the plan from May 24, it was proposed that the four councils would have a combined 60 per cent ownership of the organisation’s shares, while the other organisations would have a 40 per cent share.

The city council would also be expected to contribute between 45 and 50 per cent of the organisation’s funds during the next four years.

In the announcement released yesterday, it was revealed the councils would now have 75 per cent control of shares, with 25 per cent for the other organisations.

While a full breakdown of the shareholders has yet to be released, Shadbolt said population and financial contributions would factor into the level of representation.

“It’s taken a bit longer than we thought but it’s important to get it right.

“I think it’s like any negotiation; everyone has to give a little and that’s how you get an agreement that will be sustainable.”

Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell said the changes would not allow any one organisation to dominate.

“The structure as it stands won’t allow any one entity to have a majority say, which is good because it means we have to come to a consensus.”

Southland District mayor Gary Tong stressed that while the plan had been approved by the mayoral forum, there was still significant potential for it to be modified.

“Definitely in the past there has been some debate around the mayoral forum table over varied views within the councils.

“What I kept pushing for was that no matter what, the plan would go out for public consultation, so [the plan] might even change once it goes out among the stakeholders.

“Personally, I think there will be a fair balance, but this is a proposal out for public consultation so it’s not for us to say it’s the end result.”

Southland Mayoral Forum chairman and Gore District mayor Tracy Hicks said he hoped by the end of October the new entity would start to take shape.

“Back in November, I would have said six months ago, so I’m reluctant to put a date on it.

“When you’re working with four different council entities plus all the other groups that are involved, there will be competing interests and compromises that need to be made.

“I believe we’ve got a good result for each of the councils. I don’t believe any of them have been disadvantaged.

“There’s an opportunity to partner with local stakeholders and that’s quite unique across the country; they are the stakeholders we see as absolutely key.”

The other organisations involved as shareholders will be Ngai Tahu, the Southland Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Institute of Technology, the Community Trust of Southland, Invercargill Licensing Trust and the Mataura Licensing Trust.

Southland Chamber of Commerce president Carla Forbes said the appointment of an independent skills-based board was paramount to ensuring the new organisation would be influenced by any one group of shareholders.

“The outcome is an amazing step forward for the whole province.

“We need to ensure our economy is buoyant and attracts more people. With it we can also start to get some real traction in our tourism market.”