Spending a couple of weeks in Northland recently I was reminded it has some of New Zealand's most valuable natural assets, a subtropical climate, fertile land and some of the world's most beautiful coastline.

I could never understand why it was neglected by the previous government.

I think it was overlooked for investment year after year.

Dumped in the too-hard basket probably because of its high and complex social needs.


Many of these are intergenerational, so it was never going to be an easy fix, after years of abandonment, but as a government you don't throw your hands in the air and give up on a region.

See them as a liability, not worthy of targeted support.

I believe selective regional neglect sent a clear message to some regions "there are other parts of New Zealand more deserving of government investment".

I think Northland was viewed as a region of predominantly "dope-growing, smoking losers, mostly Māori, who know how to starve better than most".

When you sense nobody cares about you, you start to think "maybe this is as good as it gets". You live up to their expectations of you.

Northland has an ageing population, ageing quicker than anywhere else in New Zealand.

It has the biggest number of youth unemployed, those not in education and not in training, and there is long term unemployment in the general population.

It also has a large isolated rural population with families living on the breadline and in poverty.

Thankfully the Labour coalition Government has made Northland a priority.

Good for them. At last political willingness to see Northland supported with timely investment.

It won't be easy trying to turn things around, to get on top of many of the challenges but at least the Government is not looking the other way.

Northland is now a surge region. The Government has committed an investment package of $61m so far through the Provincial Growth Fund.

As a surge region it has been identified as needing early investment. Other surge regions are Bay of Plenty, East Coast, Hawkes Bay, Manawatu/Whanganui and the West Coast.

It does seems churlish though, of opposition MP Paul Goldsmith to complain there is "a clear bias" being shown by the Minister of Regional Economic Development Shane Jones because he comes from Northland.

The opposition knows it neglected Northland, think inadequate poor infrastructure just for starters.

Now the focus will be on supporting innovative job creation, boosting cultural and tourism attractions and providing social and state housing.

Money has been set aside to investigate rail improvements and to upgrade Northland's Twin Discovery route. Trees will be planted too, thousands of them with the announcement of a commercial forest on iwi land at some time in the future.

I think the biggest challenge will be to achieve better social outcomes for families. This will require commitment and collaboration across a range of services.

The needs will be complex and involve a variety of networks: (MSD / Oranga Tamariki, Police, NDHB, Corrections, Housing NZ, Education, among others) with the focus on equitable health care, building community capacity and resilience, inclusive communities and housing that matches needs.

Focusing on family rather than the individual.

Northland should never have been viewed as a poor investment opportunity.

It has tremendous potential both in natural and human capital.

Interestingly it is one of the fastest growing regions in New Zealand. Why did it take so long to be identified for investment, early or otherwise?

All the signs have been there for years. It was political willingness and commitment that was absent. Believing wrongly, this was a region that could afford to be left behind. Northland will prove the disparagers wrong. They only needed a Government to believe in them.