Wanganui has to think smarter, not larger

By John Maslin

Wanganui needs to think smarter in terms of its productivity rather than pin its hopes on increasing its population base.

That's the view of Allan MacGibbon, the Wanganui District Council's economic development manager.

Mr MacGibbon was the author of a paper to the council last year which looked at a strategy for the district.

He said while more people was an ideal, existing residents also needed to have more disposable income.

In an interview with the Chronicle, he said predictions for growth in New Zealand over the next 10 to 15 years indicated that growth would be concentrated in just five centres - Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch.

"Auckland is the one funded by the economy, and we know Christchurch is funded by the government and insurance companies in the main as it rebuilds after the earthquakes," he said.

"But of that group, even Wellington will be struggling."

Mr MacGibbon said the major concern for the provincial centres, including Wanganui, was the fact that even in those five centres growth was not expected to be much above the national average.

"Effectively, the problem is worldwide and the trend is for people to be attracted to major centres. So the big get bigger and the small get smaller."

Compared to the rest of NZ, the growth in Auckland continued at a phenomenal pace.

The area of Flat Bush near Manukau area is earmarked for residential subdivision as part of the super city's long-term strategy for housing. Fully developed by 2025, it will provide residential housing for 40,000 people - a new "town" about the size of Wanganui and created almost overnight.

But he said in global terms Auckland was not a huge community.

"Look at Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane. Each of them virtually has a population equivalent to the whole of NZ."

"Our problem is that we are a small country, yet we have massive infrastructure such as roading to support, but we simply don't have the tax base to maintain it."

He said provincial centres needed to stop putting all the efforts into increasing their population because that was an improbable outcome.

"What we need to concentrate on is finding what we do well but doing it better. We have to be smarter and we need to focus on creating highly valued products for the markets that will pay for them.

"Is the answer more people earning the same amount or the same number of people earning more? I know which one I'd prefer," he said.

Mr MacGibbon said achieving success would mean thinking in terms of a broader region that spread beyond Wanganui and took in areas like the Manawatu.

He said Wanganui was a place that suited people over the age of 40, "but that's not such a bad thing either, because an older population is generally more affluent and likes a community they feel safe in".

"Fundamentally, the problem is not one that Wanganui carries on its own. This is a country-wide problem," he said.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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