Key hears Kaikohe's needs

By Peter de Graaf

A Kaikohe business leader has told Prime Minister John Key that attempts to lure new jobs to the Mid North will fail unless the Government includes the town in its roll-out of ultra-fast broadband.

Mr Key met Kaikohe's movers and shakers at a meeting on Tuesday afternoon, touted as a chance for business owners to tell him first-hand about the challenges facing their town.

Other issues raised at the meeting, organised at the runanga headquarters by the Kaikohe Business Association and district councillor Sally Macauley, included unitary authorities, Kaikohe airport, mining, Moerewa School and anti-smacking legislation.

Association chair Steve Sangster said Kaikohe had been in decline for 30 years through the loss of government departments, shops and industry, as well as "white flight".

It needed jobs urgently and could not wait for Ngapuhi's Treaty settlement to revive the hollowed-out rural services town.

He did not want handouts but he did want policies from central and local government encouraging industry to relocate to Kaikohe. The town had plenty of cheap industrial land, a reliable power supply, an expanding geothermal power plant, and volcanic soils ideal for horticulture.

One of Mr Sangster's concerns was that the looming reorganisation of local government could saddle Northland with a single, urban-focused unitary authority. He also challenged Mr Key on the Government's plans to bypass Kaikohe as it rolled out ultra-fast broadband. "If we don't get full-noise broadband we'll be left to languish and our efforts to attract business will not succeed."

Mr Key confirmed ultra-fast broadband would reach only 75 per cent of New Zealand but the cost of getting it everywhere, especially in spread-out regions like Northland, was too high.

Kaikohe East principal Chicky Rudkin wanted to know why Moerewa School was still being run by a commissioner, despite a glowing ERO report.

David Williams of Rawene put a case for turning Kaikohe airfield into a fully fledged airport.

Runanga chairman Sonny Tau appealed for urgency with local government reform, saying a survey had shown 84 per cent of respondents supported two unitary authorities for Northland and 64 per cent agreed with Maori seats. As more than 80 per cent of respondents were non-Maori, that represented a huge shift in thinking.

"Every iwi supports the plan but Wellington is getting in the way," he said.

Northland MP Mike Sabin said Kaikohe had taken its fair share of knocks, "but you can't take the wairua out of the heart of the North".

The meeting concluded with children of Kaikohe Intermediate singing a te reo version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

- Northern Advocate

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