THE public had the opportunity to voice their opinion on a proposal to establish a new entity to drive regional and economic development in Southland at a hearing at Environment Southland on Monday.
The hearing was heard by a joint committee comprising representatives of the four Southland councils.
“Undoubtedly [the hearing] was very, very useful for the panel,” hearing panel chairman Cr Cliff Bolger, of the Gore District Council, said.
“The panel heard wide-ranging points of view and nothing of the proposal was left uncovered.”
The proposal involves forming a council-controlled organisation (CCO) called the Southland Regional Development Agency (SRDA) to oversee, drive and implement the Southland Regional Development Strategy (SoRDS) action plan, designed to ultimately increase the region’s population by 10,000 by 2025. The agency would incorporate Venture Southland (VS), including its staff, management and regional and economic development activities.
The consultation proposal, which attracted 105 submissions, posed three options – a status quo option, an advanced status quo option and an option to establish a SRDA.
A report summarising the submissions stated in general terms, there was strong support for the use of a CCO structure, the idea of a whole-of-region approach and the retention of VS staff into the new SRDA structure. There was also strong support for the SRDA option, but it was not unanimous.
Significant concern was raised that there was no mention of community development services in the proposal, particularly in rural communities, implying this work, currently carried out by VS, would not be continued.
There was support for expanding the reach and impact of tourism in the region, but some concern was raised about the possible amalgamation of tourism into one entity, particularly from interests in the Fiordland and Te Anau area, because the Southland and Fiordland markets were different.
Support for the population goal was strong, but not universal, with concerns raised about the impact of population growth on the community and environment.
Submitters Christine Henderson, of Lumsden, and Hugh McGaveston, of Invercargill, were among more than 45 submitters who spoke at the hearing.
Ms Henderson said she supported “value-added status quo” option.
“The proposal should add value to Venture, rather than take it over and change it into a commercial entity which will be at odds with community aspirations,” she said in her submission.
“The retention of knowledge and capability residing in VS is the key to past, as well as future, success.”
Mr McGaveston said he supported the CCO model.
“[The SoRDS plan] is the best thing to happen to Southland in a generation,” he said at the hearing.
In his submission, Mr McGaveston said there was an “extraordinary” private enterprise development happening in many parts of the country driven by population growth and business confidence.
“This critical private investment is something that Southland is sadly missing out on currently in many areas. This, I believe, is something that the SoRDS plan will quickly turnaround.”
Cr Bolger said the panel would now prepare a report outlining its recommendations which would be presented to the four councils for consideration next year.
“I am not of a mind to rush things because it is an important issue.”