Opinion by Andy Foster
Prime Minister John Key’s comments that ‘Wellington is dying’ and ‘we’ (the Government) ‘don’t know how to turn it around’ clearly signal a need for a national population and economic development strategy. .
The Prime Minister’s comments are concerning on two fronts. Despite his subsequent corrections the initial comments must betray what our Prime Minister really thinks. The really worrying comment is that despite thinking this is an issue, the Government doesn’t have any idea what to do about it, and he appears not just to have been talking about Wellington but about much of the country.
The prediction is that 2/3rds of all population growth in the next 30 years will occur in Auckland. The question has to be whether that is a good thing or not, and if it isn’t what levers are there to pull that might change the future. That critical analysis clearly has not been done.
Auckland’s success is imperative for New Zealand, but Government has to look after the whole country. Auckland is very much at the high end in terms of single cities dominating their country’s population. However successive governments have just accepted the ongoing drift to Auckland. Do we want massive infrastructure costs in Auckland while other parts of our country have empty streets ? The question really is whether as a nation we want to decide our future or merely to let it happen to us. That should be a pivotal leadership question for any Government.
I think we should see the Prime Minister’s comments as an opportunity and ask him to task some of his ministers to work with Wellington, and indeed any other areas he considers are ‘dying’ to come up with a strategy and a series of specific actions to ensure their wellbeing.
For starters I’d suggest Government might like to consider some regional development initiatives to help Wellington starting with considering the potential for a public private equity partnership in extending the airport runway to assist international connectivity.
Te Papa was an inspired regional economic development decision by a previous Government. I’d suggest this Government might also think about ensuring that key cultural and scientific institutions based in Wellington stay here, like the ballet, orchestra, research institutes and so forth.
Government has worn a lot of flak for the process it’s gone through to try to get a convention facility in Auckland. We would happily discuss with Mr Key’s appointed Ministers how they might look at convention and concert venues in Wellington.
Cr Foster is the Chair of the Wellington City Council’s Strategy and Policy Committee,