As this is my penultimate column for the year and with the festive season approaching, I thought it appropriate to reflect on the year.
What a crazy year it has been, dominated by the invisible enemy known to us as Covid-19. When the virus mutated its way to become a global pandemic, on a scale not seen before in modern history, as a nation we became part of an international response plan to combat the spread.
Our island status and geographical remoteness from the rest of the world provided a unique opportunity to control the spread by controlling the borders. Despite multiple security breaches at the quarantine facilities we have succeeded in controlling the spread and the health response should be applauded.
But this has come at an enormous economic cost, a cost that some countries weren't prepared to pay. In NZ the most affected people are those who have lost their jobs, maybe with more to come, as the tough employment conditions are expected to be with us for a prolonged period.
People in the Stratford District are affected by the downturn, but the situation has been mitigated to some degree due to our agriculture dominated base, which has held up well compared to other sectors.
Tradesman too are experiencing a building boom at present and there are good opportunities for those with the necessary skills now or in training with an eye to the future.
The Government's economic stimulus funding package known as "shovel ready" projects has been a boon to us as a district.
Combined with Provincial Growth Fund grants, we have secured around $39 million that will be injected into projects within the district. A total of $23m will be spent on SH43 improvements, $8m towards our new aquatic centre, $2m on the children's playground additions, $3m at Dawson Falls Lodge and the balance on road safety projects, community halls and employment schemes. Collectively this will significantly help cushion the impact of Covid-19 on the local economy.
Covid-19 has also given licence to some organisations to make change to their business model. As an example, just last week BNZ gave the trend towards online banking as the reason to close 38 branches around New Zealand, including Stratford, and blamed Covid-19 for accelerating this trend.
Next year, Westpac will most likely do the same, leaving Stratford with just two banks, TSB and Kiwibank, where you can do face to face business in town. This is extremely disappointing and will have a really negative impact on our community.
On a more positive front, the three yearly re-valuation of properties has been completed by Quotable Value NZ and this information will be released and sent to property owners in the near future. Residential properties will show the most marked upwards shift as house prices continue to increase in line with the national trends. Great news if you already own a house, not so if you don't.
I feel for the young families trying to get into their first home. Home ownership must seem like an insurmountable hurdle. Surely addressing this issue must be the number one government priority for 2021. The solution to which everyone agrees is remove barriers and build more houses.