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Watch NZH Local Focus: Fibre pays off for Whanganui

Zaryd Wilson

Donald Gordon has the best of both worlds - the regional lifestyle and customers based around the country.

The computer programmer moved to Whanganui from Wellington three years ago; a shift only possible because of Whanganui District Council's push for fibre broadband.

"We can afford to have a house here, we don't have to pay even a Wellington mortgage," Mr Gordon said.

"Angela can stay home and look after the kids until they're three, which is something most families want to do but they can't afford to. So here we've got a quarter acre flat section.

"I tell it to my friends in Wellington, or dare I say it Auckland, and their jaws drop."
Mr Gordon is bucking the trend in the regions.

Sixty per cent of New Zealand's growth over the next 20 years will be in Auckland.
Soon, two third of local authorities will be facing population stagnation or decline.

But some councils, like Whanganui, are embracing what academics call 'smart decline' and coming up with ways to prosper despite predictions.

"We figured that if they moved here and could work remotely we'd have a much better chance of attracting younger people here and that certainly worked - not hugely yet but it has worked," Whanganui mayor Annette Main said.

Recently the council also bought a flight training school and is setting up a Glassworks facility.

Massey University Associate Professor in planning Christine Cheyne says councils are best placed to lead economic development in the regions and make regional cities liveable.

She wrote a chapter in a new book, Rebooting the Regions, in where she talks about council's role in the economy.

"You can have a small population but you can have people commuting in and out and living in an area for lifestyle reasons," she said.

"Regions have enormous potential. I don't think we should ever assume that a downward cycle inevitable."

The average house price in Whanganui is last the month median house price was $180,000. Compare that to the average Wellington house price of around half a million and you can see why Mr Gordon and his family have no regrets about their decision to turn their back on the big smoke.

Made with funding from NZ on Air

- NZ Herald

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