Thank you to Rotary for this opportunity to again present this annual address. The last couple of years I have canvassed national issues like launching the large pest control programme “Battle for our Birds” or last year, on the issue of Resource Management Act reform.
Having just marked 25 years as an MP for the region, I want to reflect on how Nelson has grown and changed, and look to the future on what we need to do next.
This month, the Nelson region will surpass a significant milestone of topping 100,000 people for the first time ever. By Nelson region, I mean the Nelson postal code of Nelson city and Tasman District. I base this on the fact that at June 2015 Statistics New Zealand put us at 99,400 and our permanent population has been growing at 1,200 a year, or 100 per month.
This 100,000 population compares to 70,000 when I was first elected to parliament for the then electorate of Tasman in 1990. Our region grew the second fastest, pipped only by Auckland, between the last two census. Current trends will have the contiguous urban area of Nelson and Richmond exceeding that of Dunedin by 2040 and us becoming the South Island’s second largest urban area.
Let me assure you, I won’t still be your MP then. But this 25-year horizon should influence our thinking today.
I am not at all negative about this growth. These are signs of success. They disprove the naysayers that regional New Zealand is failing. They simply reflect the fact that Nelson is a great place to raise a family, build a future and retire. The reason I highlight our 100,000 plus population and growth is a wakeup call to ensure that our infrastructure, facilities and services match up with this growth.
I have been at the hard edge of Auckland’s problems in my ministerial roles, dealing with sky high house prices, overcrowding, congested transport and inadequate facilities, of which the root cause was inadequate planning and provision for growth going back more than a decade. We must learn from Auckland’s mistakes and in Nelson, get it right.
In trawling through the comparative statistics for Nelson between 1990 and 2015, I have been hugely encouraged by so many important areas where we are doing better.
Our population is healthier, better educated and safer. Our economy is stronger with more jobs and higher household incomes. Our facilities and environment have also improved. But there are areas of concern which I want to highlight and outline the steps we need to take to address these.
Let me give a bit more factual detail to each. Our economy has more than doubled in size to over $4.2 billion, creating an additional 12,000 jobs.
Unemployment has come down from 8% to 5%. That is good news as a job is one of the most important ingredients to families being able to get ahead. Exports from the Port of Nelson have in real terms, grown by nearly $200 million per year, or 36%.
Average household income has increased by $20,000 a year from $33,000 to $53,000 – again in real terms. And for those who argue that poverty has got worse, I point out that the income of the bottom quartile of Nelsonians has increased from $20,000 to $30,000 in real inflation adjusted terms. An increase of $10,000 or 50%.
We are also making progress in improving people’s health. Child immunisation rates were only 58% in 1990, but are now 89%. I thought we had achieved the ultimate in health for a region when we fundraised in the 90s for our first CT Scanner. We now have two and another two MRI scanners. The numbers of people receiving elective surgery and cancer treatment has doubled and increased way in excess of population growth.
This is reflected in the life expectancy in Nelson increasing by six years since 1990 – up from 75 to over 81 and we should be proud that ours is the highest in the country.
There is a similarly positive education story.
We have gone from 70% to 99% of 3-4 year olds participating in early childhood education, and the highest level in the country.
The proportion of 17 year olds in school has increased from 50% to 85% and our NCEA results at levels one, two and three are all above the national average. Many families in other parts of New Zealand fret over access to good quality education. We can proudly say all of our colleges deliver good results.
The proportion of our population with a degree level qualification has increased from 7% to 17%.
Another important area is crime and safety.
New Zealand’s homicide rate has declined by 30% from 1.5 to 1 per 100,000 people over the past quarter of a century. We are ranked in the safest 15% of countries and our homicide rate per 100,000 people is less than Australia, Canada and the US.
Our roads have become much safer over that 25 year period with the toll down from 729 to 321 nationally, and from 20 a year to seven a year in this region.
Environmentally, we have also made significant achievements. In the 25 year period, we have created New Zealand’s second largest National Park, Kahurangi, and gone from no marine reserves to three, around Tonga Island in the Abel Tasman, in Westhaven Inlet and the Nelson North Reserve.
The air we breathe in Nelson is the cleanest in decades. The number of polluted days in Nelson has come down from over 80 per year to three.
We are also doing a much better job in protecting biodiversity. Project Janzoon in the Abel Tasman is world leading. The Brook Waimarama Sanctuary, the second largest in New Zealand, will be a safe haven for birds not seen in our city for a century.
The last area I want to cover is our progress on culture, science and sports. We have done amazingly well to have successfully completed upgrades of both our museum and Theatre Royal in the last decade and we will have the Suter Project completed and the School of Music underway this year.
One of my roles as MP is as a Trustee of the Cawthron Institute. It is now New Zealand’s largest independent research institute and has grown five-fold from a staff of 40 to over 230.
I also believe we are a better country and region for the renaissance of Maori culture and identity. We didn’t even have a proper whare or marae in Nelson 25 years ago.
The developments at Whakatu, the whare at Nelson College and the Kura in Richmond are all steps forward. Whakatu Incorporation has grown into one of New Zealand’s most successful Maori business organisations.
I also consider it a massive step forward that last year we settled century old claims with all eight iwi across the Nelson and Marlborough.
Our sporting facilities have also improved hugely. I can remember standing in a bare paddock with the then Mayors of Nelson, Peter Malone and Tasman’s Kerry Marshall, contemplating the potential of a Saxton Field sports complex.
We should also welcome and celebrate the competitiveness of our national teams like the Makos, Giants and now Nelson United in football, where we punch above our weight.
I highlight these successes, not to dismiss the problems we have today, but to reinforce that we are making great progress. I am privileged in my work representing Nelson and New Zealand to travel extensively, and I am yet to find a place where I would rather live.
So let me now shift to the future. What are the areas where we are making insufficient progress and which we need to address. The first I want to highlight is water management. Nationally and locally we need to lift our game.
We are richly blessed with freshwater, but we have paid insufficient attention to how we store and use it, how we allocate it wisely and how we maintain its quality.
The repeated reports of toxic algae blooms in the Waimea River are unacceptable. They reflect minimum flows that are too low and nutrient levels that are too high. We need to acknowledge that this river and a number of others around the country have deteriorated over recent decades, and that action is needed.
In November the TDC opened a new $12 million water treatment facility in lower Queen Street. The need for this is largely due to a plume of nitrate generated from a long closed pig farm making its way into the source of Richmond’s drinking water. These problems in the Waimea are typical of the problems around New Zealand go back decades, and will require a long-term strategy to resolve.
In 2011, I introduced the first National Policy on Freshwater. In 2014, we added the minimum standards. These changes are requiring Councils like Tasman to tighten the regulation on both water takes and discharges. This context is crucial to the debate we are to have this year on the Waimea Community Dam.
Too few people realise that without the dam, there will need to be a substantial hair cut to existing water takes to meet the new minimum flow requirements in the Tasman District water plan. Water permits in the Waimea Plains are currently 64% over allocated.
If these cutbacks eventuate, it will have a major impact on horticultural production, jobs, and exports. Nor is the city exempt. About a third of Nelson’s water supply comes from the Roding which is part of the Waimea Catchment. Nelson is applying for renewal of this permit later this year and it will be contentious.
The problem here as in other parts of New Zealand is not a shortage of water. We only use about 1.8 per cent of New Zealand’s total for irrigation and other uses. A single day’s peak flow in the Waimea River is sufficient to meet all of the irrigation needs for an entire year. The core issue is being able to store water in times of high flow and then releasing it during those critical summer months of high use.
There are six key benefits from the Waimea Community Dam. Firstly, it means there will not need to be significant cuts in existing water allocations. Secondly, it will enable 1200 hectares of additional irrigated land and millions in additional export revenue for the region. Thirdly, it will lift minimum summer flows in the Waimea River, improving recreational opportunities and water quality from dilution. The fourth benefit is fewer nutrients; higher value irrigated horticultural crops like apples leech lower levels of nutrients than the existing pastoral farming. The fifth benefit is that the dam would allow flush flows in summer in the event of algae build-ups. The sixth benefit is increased security of supply and capacity for growth of Nelson and Tasman’s urban water supplies.
The obvious contention over the dam is the $70 million cost. For it to happen we need to stitch together a fair sharing of this between landowners, councils and Government. There is no perfect answer to the right mix. Landowners will rightfully be asked for a good share because it positively affects their land value.
I take a long-term view to these sorts of infrastructure investments. Previous generations of Nelsonians dug deep to pay for things like the cut in the Boulder Bank for our Port, the roads, drains, stop banks and dams that enable Nelson to prosper today.
The deal is we benefit from these inherited assets but we also carry a duty to improve the infrastructure for the next generation.
I reflect on the debates surrounding the construction of the Matai Dam in the 1980s and the Waiiti Dam last decade. Both have been stunning successes, sound investments and crucial infrastructure.
I have a specific idea I wish to propose locally to help meet the cost. Our Nelson Port Company, jointly owned by both councils, is well run and in sound financial shape.
A special dividend could be made by the Port Company to both Councils as part of their contribution to the cost. It is not a free lunch. The Port Company’s dividend stream to both Councils in future would be less, but it would enable our community to leverage off this asset to help fund the next.
Such a contribution from Councils via the Port Company makes sense. The bulk of the Port’s income comes from the Tasman part of the region. The Port will lose revenue if the dam does not proceed because of reduced exports. The Port will benefit long-term from the increased production if it proceeds. I will be discussing this option further with our councils and the Port Company as the debate on the Waimea Community Dam progresses this year.
The Government is also willing to help. We have already contributed $1 million through the Irrigation Acceleration Fund for the planning, design and consenting of the dam. Discussions are progressing between the Tasman Council, Dam community and the $400 million Crown Irrigation Fund. I will also be seeking further funding in Budget 2016 to support water quality initiatives around the country that may also provide further support for this project.
The second area where we need to do better is housing. Home ownership is one of the few social stats in which today’s generation is less well off than yesterdays. In Nelson over the past 25 years it has dropped from 79% to 72%, albeit Nelson is still better than the national average.
On 1st April last year I launched with the Prime Minister the Government’s Homestart initiative involving grants of up to $20,000 from a fund of $430 million for first home owners, as well as giving them easier access to their Kiwisaver funds.
It is going great guns and I am hugely encouraged by the take up rates both in Nelson and nationally. A young Nelson couple on the average working wage with no other savings than Kiwisaver can by year five using this scheme, put a deposit down of $45,000 and with a Government guaranteed Welcome Home Loan get a $400,000 home. We have already had 250 Nelsonians take up this option in the first six months and we are budgeting to help over 2,500 Nelson families into a home from this initiative.
We also need more houses and more affordable homes. That is why I entered into Housing Accords with both the Nelson and Tasman Councils to help increase supply. Just prior to Christmas, the Nelson Council proposed 10 special housing areas that would enable us to fast-track consents for an additional 700 homes. I will soon be recommending these to Cabinet.
A further local and national issue we need to address is the quality of rental housing. It is not that it is worse, than it has been historically, but rather that there is an opportunity to improve the safety and health of many of our lower income families who predominantly rent. The Bill I introduced to Parliament just prior to Christmas and which I want to have passed in the first half of this year does three things.
• Firstly, all rental properties including 2,500 in Nelson will need to have a long life smoke alarm installed by 1st July.
• Secondly, rentals will need to have floor and ceiling insulation installed that impacts on 3600 houses in Nelson.
• And thirdly, it will introduce new powers for my Ministry to prosecute the small minority of slum landlords whose houses are unhealthy and unsafe to rent.
The third issue I want to canvass is in respect of Transport.
Transport links have huge implications for the long-term success and economic prospects of a region.
Nelson has long been a hub for aviation. We have a well located airport and increasing frequent and competitive services to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch as well as new services to Palmerston North, Paraparaumu and Dunedin. These links open up all sorts of doors for specialist businesses to base themselves in Nelson, as well as growing our significant tourism industry. We are also fortunate to have a well-run airport company that is one of the few in regional New Zealand to operate profitability.
The problem we must address is the inadequacy of our terminal facilities. Annual passenger numbers have grown fivefold, from 150,000 per year in 1990 to 750,000 in 2015. They are likely to hit a million per year by 2020. People’s first experience in Nelson currently is an over-crowded airport. This risks eroding our brand as a lifestyle centre where people can relax away from the hassles and crowds of big cities. A key priority for me this year is working with our two Councils and the Airport Company to design and build a new airport terminal. This new building needs to be not only functional but to an attractive shop front for our creative arts, national parks and unique industries.
It will not surprise you that the fourth issue I want to give an updated perspective on is why we need to make further progress this year on the Southern Link road, and the associated coastal boulevard and cycling path on Rocks Road.
Vehicle numbers in the region have actually been growing at a much faster rate than the population. You will recall at the beginning of the speech, I noted Nelson’s regional population has grown from 70,000 to 100,000 since 1990. Registered vehicle numbers have gone from 57,000 to 101,000 – i.e. while the population grew by 43 per cent, vehicle numbers have grown by 77 per cent. This reflects that as people become better off, they do more, trade more, and travel more.
You cannot have 44,000 additional vehicles and not expect to build more roads to accommodate them. And it is particularly important for the economics of Nelson City that we have the capacity for people to get in and out of the city efficiently.
There is no use in investing public money in great facilities like our Suter, Theatre Royal, Provincial Museum, School of Music, Trafalgar Park and Trafalgar Centre unless we can get people safely and efficiently to and from them.
We need only to look at the growth of retail in Richmond to realise how Nelson City is losing ground. The very astute and rather dry former Mayor of Nelson and Tasman Kerry Marshall told me prior to Christmas we need to get on with it or Nelson will become the Port for the city of Richmond.
Nor should we underestimate the degree to which the inadequacies of our State Highway link into Nelson is already eroding our brand as a relaxed, uncongested, vibrant holiday destination.
I have been on Rocks Road dozen of times over the break when traffic was clogged up, sometimes all the way from Tahunanui to the city. I had comments from visitors that the traffic congestion was becoming a turnoff to them choosing to having a break in Nelson
We made three significant steps forward on this issue last year.
Firstly, the New Zealand Transport Agency agreed to extend the timeframe of our allocated ‘R’ funding until the completion of the strategic study and business case.
The second significant step was securing $12.8 million of government funding for the coastal section around Rocks Road of our cycleway, enabling connection from the airport to the new Maitai River Boulevard in the city.
And the third was the outcome of the strategic study in November into the Southern Link that confirmed significant benefits in reduced congestion, regional economic growth and productivity, improved community safety and wellbeing and improved tourism and recreational activities.I was disappointed some of our Nelson City Councillors opposed to the Southern Link choose to do a hatchet job on the then Chair of our transport committee, immediately this positive report came out. This was unfair and the worst type of politics of playing the man rather than the ball.
But there is a broader context that Nelson Councillors needs to appreciate. This is a regional issue. More of the people and freight that currently use the Stoke Bypass and go on into the city and port come from outside Nelson City’s boundaries.
I also must confront criticism from some that the work on this road is being progressed undemocratically and unethically.
I and John Key made absolutely plain our policy at the general election on the Southern Link and were successful with National securing its highest vote ever in Nelson. Labour made plain its opposition and got its worst ever result.
Rachel Reese was the most pro of candidates in the Mayoral elections for the Southern Link and won a clear mandate.
The public support for this project is reinforced not just by the local and national election results but by a range of surveys. Greypower’s members were 5 to 1 in favour last year. The Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce survey found similar very strong support from the business community. I was surprised with my own household survey last year that despite not having questions on the southern link, it attracted dozens of comments calling for progress.
There are three major problems for Southern Link opponents. Firstly, the growth data is irrefutable. We have more people, more vehicles, more freight, and more tourists. We must accommodate that growth with increased arterial capacity in and out of Nelson, or we will see our quality of life and Nelson City decline.
Secondly, opponents have not been able to develop a credible alternative. Proposals like light rail, standard rail, tunnels or barging freight from Richmond are unrealistic and unviable. Other alternatives like putting additional lanes on Rocks Road or Waimea Road come with significantly greater impacts on households, schools and the environment. And the third problem is that the Rocks Road cycleway and boulevard that is so widely supported and which will enhance our magnificent waterfront is much more achievable if we relocate the state highway.
An important priority this year will be continuing to advocate for this dual project – the Southern Link highway and a cycleway around Rocks Road and the business case to progress them both.
The overall crime picture in our region is positive with total offending declining by 25% over the past five years.
My worry is in respect of the gangs and the newly established presence in Nelson of the Hells Angels here. The drugs like “P” they peddle, flow on into the most serious types of offending.
I was disappointed that the Police efforts to isolate and target the gangs in Nelson unravelled in the courts last year. The priority has to be public safety. I will be inviting Judith Collins, the newly re-appointed Minister of Police to Nelson, and discussing with her how we can give every possible support to the Police to try and ensure this new gang presence does not translate into increased offending.
There are another two areas where we need to make our community safer. I will be taking a keen interest in Justice Minister Adams’ reforms on family violence. The chilling story so aptly told in the Nelson Mail last November of the killing of seven-year-old Nayland Primary schoolboy Duwayne Pailegutu by his stepfather for not bringing home his jersey from school is a reminder that we have to do better in preventing these sorts of tragedies. I will also be supporting the Nelson City Council using its new local alcohol policies to reduce the incidence of alcohol-linked violence.
The fifth issue I want to canvass is management of our marine environment.
It is important to Nelson as New Zealand’s largest fishing port, but also because of our long cultural and recreational connections to the sea.My broader ambition is for New Zealand to be a world leader in the sustainable use and conservation of our marine environment.
An important first project for our Government when we were first elected that I led was putting in place a robust system of environmental assessments for activities in New Zealand’s vast EEZ and setting up the Environmental Protection Authority to undertake this role.
There are four initiatives I want to advance this year.
The first is to implement the Prime Minister’s announcement at the UN in September of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. Just as our forebears set aside areas of land like the Tongariro and Fiordland National Parks, we need to set aside areas of ocean for nature’s sake.
The Kermadecs is an extraordinary area. The ocean is as deep as Everest is tall and the second deepest in the world. The string of underwater volcanoes of which 30 are the size of Mount Taranaki, is the longest in the world. This area is home to over six million sea birds, 35 species of whale and dolphins, 250 species of coral and 150 species of fish. It is right that we set it aside this area, twice the size of New Zealand’s land mass, from mining, petroleum exploration and fishing.
The second initiative is advancing a new Marine Protected Areas Act to replace our now outdated Marine Reserves Act. I put out a discussion document with Ministers Nathan Guy and Maggie Barry for comment earlier this month.
The key change is allowing for a range of different types of marine protection just like we have different types of parks and reserves on land. The new law is proposing to make more provision for no-take marine reserves, but also seabed reserves for protecting species like coral, sanctuaries for species like whales, albatross or great white sharks, as well as areas specifically for recreational fishing.
The proposal includes making the Marlborough Sounds into a Recreational Fishing Park.
My view is that the finfish in the Sounds, which makes up about 130 tonnes of commercial catch each year, offers more value to the top of the south as a recreational resource to be caught on a line by a family or tourist, than in a large net for sale at the supermarket or for export. An aligned park in Hauraki is also proposed.
I do not accept that these marine protection measures are a threat to Nelson and New Zealand’s important fishing industry. The affected commercial catch in these areas is miniscule and is a fraction of 1% of this 600,000-tonne fishing industry.
I am hugely proud of our fishing industry and our world class quota management system, but the future in securing the very best price and value for our fish is in positioning our products from the best managed and conserved ocean in the world.
It is telling that the TPP deal to be signed in Auckland next week opens up new opportunities for our seafood exports in hugely significant markets like the US and Japan includes for the first time in a trade agreement, strong environmental and sustainability regulations.
The further dimension to my work in the marine environment is progressing the concept of a Marine Education Centre and Fisheries Museum in Nelson. I am encouraged by the effort being put in by the voluntary trust led by Richmond lawyer Peter Dawson. The next step on this project will be securing funding for a feasibility study on the different site options.
The final issue I want to cover is how we market our region and country.
The Nelson Mayor and council have endorsed a plan to merge our economic development agency and our tourism promotion agency, and for the new organisation to come into effect in July.
I strongly endorse this plan. It enables a more integrated story to be told of why Nelson is a good place to visit, invest in, and move to. Relative to our attributes of a great climate, our parks and scenery, our creative sector and facilities, our food, wine and beer, we do not do a good enough job of marketing the region. We had Nelson “the Sunshine State” in the 1980s and 1990s. Fifteen years ago, I initiated the “Nelson Live the Day” brand on a shoestring budget when I was looking for something useful to do in Opposition, but it is now tired and outdated.
My challenge for the new organisation will be to develop a refreshed regional identity for Nelson. There are similarities to the debate on the flag.
In most countries, the decision to change the flag has just been decided by Government or Parliament. We are appropriately entrusting all New Zealanders to make that decision. To help people in Nelson engage and participate I will be flying both flags on my electorate office and caravan from this week.
Here are my thoughts on why we should have the courage to change.
This is a comparatively simple choice as to whether the Union Jack or silver fern is the better symbol for our country going forward.
I favour change because we are no longer a colony of Britain but a maturing nation with our own culture, identity and values.
I favour change as part of becoming a more inclusive country of the many different cultures that make up New Zealand today.
I also favour change because it is the silver fern and not the Union Jack of our current flag engraved on the headstones of our brave service people who died abroad.
The flag issue is not the most important issue for our country, but it is an opportunity for us to better identify ourselves on the world stage and celebrate the smart and successful country we have become.
Looking forward to 2016, I have the busiest year yet in my 25 years in Parliament with over a dozen bills to advance, covering the RMA, recreational fishing parks, earthquake-prone buildings, requiring smoke alarms and insulation in rental homes, putting in place the Kermadecs Sanctuary as well as special housing measures for both Auckland and Christchurch.
The risk for me is that I get stuck in Parliament. When you have been an MP for 25 years and in a Government that is in its third term, you need to think of new ways to stay connected with the 65,000 constituents I am there to serve.
My caravan duties each Saturday at the Nelson Market and monthly at Richmond, and my annual surveys and constant emails and letters help.
The extra initiative I am taking this year is to spend a Friday a month in a Nelson workplace. I intend to do a day in each of our major industries – on an orchard and a packhouse, on a fishing boat and in a fish factory, in our timber and tourism industries.
It will include a day in each of our core public services – in a classroom, at a hospital or rest home, and out with our Police. I also want to include a day on a building site and at the recycling centre to connect with the grass-roots of my portfolios.
I don’t claim you can in any way learn everything about the sector in a single day, but I hope to be better informed and better connected with the people who keep Nelson ticking by dedicating this time to keep in touch.
To summarise, 2016 will be a year in which I am focused on the issues of water, housing, transport, safer communities, our marine environment and how we can strengthen our regional and country identity to the world. I will be taking every opportunity to make a positive difference for Nelson and New Zealand.
Copyright © 2000 - 2017 Nick Smith. All rights reserved