Civic leaders list Taranaki priorities

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Wellington is getting a strong and clear message from Taranaki as campaigning begins in the lead-up to the General Elections on 20 September.

The region's civic leaders – Taranaki Regional Council Chair David MacLeod, New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd, Stratford Mayor Neil Volzke and South Taranaki Mayor Ross Dunlop – have drawn up a nine-point list of issues they expect an incoming Government to address.

The list focuses on the region's transport needs, regional development and the way oil and gas revenues are shared, Treaty of Waitangi settlements, Resource Management Act reforms, marine oil spill preparedness and investment in Egmont National Park.

"Central Government policies and priorities have a huge impact on regional communities and economies," say the region's civic leaders. "When Wellington gets it right, it's easier for our communities to flourish. When Wellington gets it wrong, we're forced to divert our efforts into overcoming frustratingly unnecessary barriers."

While Taranaki currently enjoys a buoyant economy – including the highest provincial GDP per capita – and excellent amenities and lifestyles, more can be done to ensure the region achieves its full potential.

"For example, the region has one of the lowest central Government spends per capita. This is despite Taranaki's significant contribution to national wealth and wellbeing through its highly productive agricultural sector and oil and gas production and the downstream processing and manufacturing industries they support. Some 57% of Taranaki's economy is export oriented – twice the national average," say the region's civic leaders.

They note that a whole host of Government activities in health, education and other areas are important to Taranaki, but have identified nine key areas that from a local-central government partnership perspective are important for both the region and the nation:

• State Highway 3 north: A commitment is required to significant and major improvements to increase the resilience of this strategically important highway. The time for talking is over.

• Normanby overbridge realignment: A crucial and top priority project for the region, and it is ready to go. Money must be found to finally get this important road safety and improvement project completed.

• Road funding for heartland regions – R Funds: The Regional (R) fund mechanism of allocating a proportion of road funding to regions is to expire in April 2015. Regions like Taranaki are facing increasing difficulty in accessing funds for their transport networks and infrastructure. A mechanism to ensure productive heartland regions like Taranaki continue to receive a fair share of road funding is needed.

• Oil and gas industry and returns to the community: This industry produces significant revenues for the government but none is specifically captured in the region. A new Government must look to ensuring that a portion of the public takings remains in the region to ensure there is direct benefit to local communities which bear the additional infrastructure and other costs of industry presence in their area.

• A fresh focus on regional development and tourism: Regions like Taranaki are major engine rooms of the national economy. With the huge amount of public funds going into infrastructure development in major centres, particularly Auckland, Taranaki wants to see a renewed and tangible emphasis and commitment to supporting regional innovation and development – a recognition of who pays the bills. While Taranaki's strengths are its land-based industries, its undoubted tourism potential could broaden the region's economic base. But we need the Government as a partner in the development of tourist attractions and amenities.

• Treaty settlements: Settling historical Treaty of Waitangi claims in Taranaki will have considerable social, cultural, political and economic benefits not only for Maori but also for the region as a whole. The new Government must continue to make the completion of Treaty settlements in Taranaki a priority.

• RMA implementation and reforms: RMA implementation and administration is a major activity of local government and important for our quality environment and lifestyle. The new Government must continue with reforms to improve outcomes and reduce compliance costs for councils, communities and resource users. But this must be done carefully to ensure that real problems are defined and that local communities retain the ability to make decisions that affect them.

• Marine oil spill response: Taranaki is one of the highest risk areas in New Zealand for marine oil spills, with oil industry activity ramping up in the region. The new Government must take a lead to develop a collaborative central government/local government/commercial sector response to building a marine oil spill response capability in Taranaki that is fit for purpose.

• Investment in Egmont National Park: The region has one of the premier, iconic assets in New Zealand's national park system but much greater Crown investment is needed, including more regular pest control and upgraded physical assets, to produce wide-ranging benefits for the region and the country.