Wellington starved of govt love – former PM

Wellington has a battle on its hands for government attention, and is losing out to Auckland and Christchurch.

Wellington has a battle on its hands for government attention, and is losing out to Auckland and Christchurch.

Labour prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer says the capital is going through the same debate Auckland had before to the creation of its super city in 2010.

Sir Geoffrey, who is also Wellington local government review panel chairman, shared his concerns for the future of the region at a chamber of commerce breakfast this week.

A recent city council submission process attracted 1209 responses, with more than two-thirds of submitters wanting change – either in the form of one super city or two or three bigger councils.

Sir Geoffrey says aspects of Wellington’s economy are not looking too good. In the latest BERL regional rankings the city slipped 20 places on the year before, to No 31 on the list, 17 places behind Auckland.

The ranking system looked at factors such as population, employment, GDP figures, business health and the make-up of the region’s industry.

Sir Geoffrey says job growth is down, as is the GDP figure for the region.

But he urged business owners not to get too upset about the figures and instead points to how crucial some form of amalgamation is to regional economic development.

“Since becoming a supercity, Auckland has become the economic powerhouse because it has lost all its inhibitions.”

However, he says there has been a loss of democracy there, with just 21 community boards. He believes this proves the "one size fits all model" will not work for Wellington.

He says what businesses want is pretty simple.

“They need the infrastructure, they don’t want to have money wasted on it, they don’t want to see duplication of various services carried out in separate silos and they want to make sure there isn’t any waste.”

Sir Geoffrey says Wellington is already struggling for attention from a central government keen to work with Auckland’s supercity and the Christchurch rebuild.

He trumpets the so-called Wellington story – the success of the IT and movie-making industry locally, along with research and development. He says Wellington has one scientist for every 250 residents.

But he believes the story is undersold and needs more promotion, especially given the squeeze play between Auckland and Christchurch.

He thinks this is a big threat to the region and it will only get worse if something is not done – without spelling what that "something" is.

It is a view shared by Wellington employers’ chamber of commerce president Richard Stone, who says Auckland is a lot more visible and engaging as a super city.

“One of the things we have said is until the region is able to speak with one voice, we are not going to get the visibility or engagement at central government level we otherwise should.

"The government will be saying, 'until you as a region get your act together, we can’t help resolve the systemic issues you face',” Mr Stone told NBR ONLINE.

Mr Stone believes amalgamation could help a whole range of business sectors, providing the boost they need.

A reduction in compliance costs is one example, while a single council could also improve the region’s approach to science research technology. Major infrastructure projects such as Transmission Gully are also likely to benefit.

He says regular chamber surveys show more than 75% of members support some form of local government reform. He thinks business is frustrated with Wellington local government.

Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown says what the region needs is what she calls "locals championing local business".

An example of this was when the region’s mayors met with a 180-strong delegation from China’s south-east coast province of Zhejiang, which has a population of 54 million people.

The delegation met to sign a strategic economic partnership to encourage more trade between the two areas.

The Chinese province has a GDP of nearly $US500 million and Ms Wade-Brown is confident the new agreement will encourage multi-million dollar trade with local businesses.

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