EDITORIAL - Hard-hit Kaikohe needs to reinvent itself

Chief Reporter, Peter de Graaf
Today's front-page news - that the Far North District Council is shifting a quarter of its staff from its headquarters in Kaikohe to Kerikeri - will come as no surprise to those who have followed the two towns' fortunes in recent years.
The plan, a brainchild of new Far North Mayor Wayne Brown, will see the council's planning and building department relocated to Kaitaia and Kerikeri, where most of the Far North's development is taking place.
On the face of it, the move makes perfect sense.
Bay of Islands folk who need to see council planning staff face-to-face will no longer have to drive to Kaikohe, which ties in with Mr Brown's election promise to make applying for resource and building consents quicker and less arduous.
People in the Hokianga and elsewhere in the west will be disadvantaged, but their consent applications are far fewer in number.
The move is likely to further fuel Kerikeri's boom, especially if a good proportion of those staff pack their bags and shift east. Already Kerikeri claims to be the fastest-growing town in New Zealand, a far cry from the sleepy horticultural settlement town of a decade ago.
It will also mean extra pressure on Kerikeri's busy roads - its main street was made one-way earlier this year in a bid to tame its traffic - as well as its schools, many of which have been forced to introduce zoning, and its already high property prices.
Kaikohe, a farming services town and the Ngapuhi "capital", was chosen as the headquarters for the Far North District Council in the local-body amalgamation of 1990.
It still has the busiest courthouse in the Far North and the fabulous, biennial Ngapuhi festival - but its role as "the hub of the north", halfway between the Hokianga and the Bay of Islands, Kaitaia and Whangarei, has been eclipsed by the population boom in the east.
That was illustrated in October's local-body elections, when Wayne Brown's strong support in Kerikeri and the Bay of Islands assured him of a landslide victory.
Now Waipapa looks set to be the Mid North's big-box retail capital; even the police are moving east, with the Far North's top cop shifting his base to Kerikeri last year.
The news is a blow to Kaikohe's business community, even if Mr Brown told the Advocate there were no plans to move the rest of the council's 200-odd staff.
Kaikohe's business association has been making a concerted effort to make the town a better place by introducing community patrols, cracking down on truancy and tidying up the main street.
But the loss of 50 jobs - which business association secretary Don Edmonds says will have a far greater impact on Kaikohe than the new jobs will have on Kerikeri and Kaitaia - won't help an already sluggish local economy.
In the short term at least the move will cost ratepayers, with staff moving from council-owned offices to rented premises in a more expensive town.
It remains to be seen whether that will be offset, as promised, by improved efficiency.
Sadly for Kaikohe, it seems inevitable that the town will lose more jobs and services as the Far North's centre of gravity keeps drifting eastwards.
Perhaps it needs to reinvent itself and carve out a new role, not as a political or business hub, but as something new - like Kawakawa has managed so brilliantly with its Hundertwasser toilets and vintage railway.

- Northern Advocate

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