Regional agency decision imminent

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    WHETHER a new agency will be established to drive Southland’s regional and economic development is expected to be decided by the end of this month.

    The recommendations of the committee charged with leading the consultation process on the proposal to establish the Southland Regional Development Agency (SRDA) were last week presented to the Gore District Council (GDC) and Environment Southland (ES), both of which endorsed the proposal.

    The Invercargill City Council (ICC) and Southland District Council (SDC) are expected to make their decisions by the middle of next week.

    Southland Mayoral Forum chairman Gary Tong said members of the forum would make a decision about establishing the council-controlled organisation “within days of the councils’ decisions”.

    “I will definitely be keeping it moving forward.

    “We are not stopping it again. There are so many stakeholders waiting for this to get going.”

    The Southland Mayoral Forum proposes to establish a new agency to oversee, drive and implement the Southland Regional Development Strategy (SoRDS) action plan to ultimately increase the region’s population by 10,000 by 2025. The new agency would incorporate Venture Southland (VS), including its staff, management and regional and economic development activities.

    Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks said the council supported the development of the new agency, but wanted to see further discussion around funding.

    At present, core funding for the agency is proposed to be provided by the four Southland councils apportioned on a population basis, with contributions from central government, business and community sectors to support regional development.

    “We are behind the philosophy and objectives of the development of a new agency,” Mr Hicks said.

    “We are just looking to have further talks with our neighbouring councils about funding. Councillors feel there needs to be some recognition of the contribution we presently make to regional economic development that sits outside the money we put into Venture each year. This includes services such as arts and heritage and the Gore Visitor Centre,” he said.

    ES chairman Nicol Horrell said ES was also “on board”.

    “Ensuring we have a thriving, prosperous Southland is key to what we are about, so we are very much behind what is good for Southland as long as it is sustainable.”

    ES would be required to contribute substantially more funding towards the new agency than it normally would, but Southland’s councils needed to show unity in order to access government funding, he said.

    “It is never good spending extra money but, on balance, we have to be part of it.”

    Mr Tong said subject to the four councils’ agreement, the board of the new agency would be appointed in November and the agency would be fully operational by February next year.

    Last year, the GDC and SDC gave notice they would withdraw from the VS agreement from February 1, next year, to support the establishment of SRDA.

    Mr Tong said if delays occurred and the new organisation was not operational by February, SDC would reconsider its funding for VS.

    “If we can’t [establish the new agency] within that timeframe, there is something very wrong.”

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