"First thing you've got to do is actually win the election!"

These are the cautionary words of Stratford Mayor Neil Volzke when asked what he plans for his next term.

"You never make the assumption that you get there automatically," he said. "It is a contest and people have a right to choose so, all things going well and if I do get re-elected the first thing I'll do is heave a sigh of relief. And then get back to business as usual."

Volzke talked to Local Focus about the challenges and opportunities for Stratford including a project to create more housing, with the council taking on the role of property developer.


"We're standing beside the council's brand-new residential subdivision and we're looking to put 33 sections in here," Volzke said, standing next to the freshly graded paddocks.

"And just while we were here today, for the very first time the engineers turned on the water and we saw the water flowing from the taps, so are getting very close to finishing this project.

"We had a lot of anecdotal information to say people wanted to build here but we just didn't have suitable land in the quantities they wanted. We thought we wanted to do a decent subdivision but there was a lack of interest from the commercial sector. So we thought we'd get on and do it ourselves."

It's not the first time. Stratford District did it before in 2007.

"It was very successful and so we're doing it again and there's been a lot of interest in this development," Volzke said.

"Taranaki has a lot of challenges particularly around our eco aspects of it. This province has built its wealth around oil and gas and agriculture, in particular dairy farming.

"Both of those sectors are under quite a lot of pressure due to Government policy changes, so we've got to accept the challenge to diversify and transition away from relying on a couple of industries and get in to a broader range of things."

Volzke is hoping tourism is one of those new industries.


"Mount Taranaki sits behind me there virtually untapped as a resource for visitors and we'd like to think that we can make the most of that. There's some great walks up there.

"There's eight iwi in Taranaki. All have settled bar one and Ngāti Maru is in the final stages of their settlement. Once they've done that, there's great opportunities for them to group together and promote tourism in the area.

"They've already started that process in regards to the mountain - two of our iwi groups Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāruahine both own lodges on the mountain already and I believe the third one is not very far away, so that's certainly a good start point."

Mayor Volzke says the key to a more prosperous Stratford is working together as a community.

"I guess if we've got one gap it frustrates me a little, and I know it frustrates people in the community, but a lot of the retail shops we've lost over the years and we haven't been able to replace them. It's very easy to commute to some of the destination stores and it would be really nice to get some of those chains and franchises back into the area."

Attracting young families is also a priority.

"That's an issue in all small towns, retaining young people, but we've got a lot of people in the not-so-young category, maybe early thirties. It's a great place to raise a family, great sporting facilities, were half a kilometre from the coast, the mountain is that way, so a lot of opportunity for people in lifestyle things.

"Taranaki as a region has got everything going for it. It is a great lifestyle we think as far as our little community goes. It's a very safe community, it's very affordable, we've got great sporting facilities and it's very inclusive and supportive of each other.

"So if you're looking for a great place to bring up kids you won't go far wrong here."

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