I’m looking forward to building on the strong relationship I’ve developed during the past two years with the Chao Shan General Association of New Zealand – a business and cultural group set up to promote tourism, trade and other mutual benefits between the eastern area of Guangdong, the most populous province in China, which includes the cities of Jieyang, Chaozhou and Shantou, and New Zealand.
The association is sponsoring the visit – my first to China – and is promoting Southland in eastern Guangdong, and Beijing and Guangzhou.
During the six-day visit I will be giving eight presentations on Southland to central and local government representatives, and possibly more importantly be listening to what they say about the things people from their area are looking for when they visit New Zealand.
I’m looking forward to reporting back on the insights I gain in China as we seek to further develop our strong trade and tourism ties.
There’ll be a half day downtime during the visit and I have to admit I’m quite excited to have the opportunity to visit the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City in Beijing.
As many people will know, I’m not really one for going into big cities but I’m quite happy to live and learn. It’s important that we foster these important relationships with New Zealand’s major trading partners.
China is developing at an astonishing rate and areas such as Southland appeal to many people in China both as a destination to visit and as an area which produces outstanding primary produce and manufactured goods.
The rise and rise of dairy consumption in China and an increasing appetite for grass-fed beef and lamb present fantastic opportunities to both our large-scale and more niche producers.
The relationship with China goes both ways, they learn from us, and we learn from them. There’s 4G coverage everywhere in China, so if they can do it there, why can’t we do it here?
Admittedly, the way things get done in China and the way things get done in New Zealand have some stark differences, but I believe we’re not that far apart when it comes to the priorities of modern life.
Middle-class priorities are the same the world over, as people juggle work, family and other commitments.
Priorities for our communities in Southland remain top of mind for us as we hurtle towards Christmas. We’ve seen a lot of change in 2017 – including a newly minted Government, and no doubt 2018 will bring more opportunities, challenges and surprises.
Our recent round of nine Community Conversations around the district have shone the spotlight on Council’s representation – and possibilities for change as the next Representation Review looms in April.
Whether there were packed rooms or a smattering of people round a table, the quality of conversations was always high. We discussed the present model, of 12 councillors, eight community boards and 19 Community Development Area Sub-Committees. Then asked the question of why with all these elected representatives – 175 in total – about a third of the district is not represented at a local level? Councillors in general do a great job, but their role is very much district-wide nowadays.
We are finding out more about what people consider their community of interest – where they shop, where their kids go to school, where they work, play sport, and socialise.
We’re taking ideas and feedback about all these district dynamics until the end of January, and will use that information to help inform a proposal for the district representation review which needs to be put out in April.
People taking their children into Invercargill for school, or commuting significant distances for work – it’s all part of the constant change. Accommodation demands are changing too, with visitor numbers driving many to market properties to short-stay visitors instead of long-term renters. There are accommodation shortages which are coming to light, and we need to think carefully about how to tackle these challenges. The need for emergency housing is another consideration, which we must not lose sight of.
Freedom camping has probably been the issue which has captured the most headlines in our district throughout the year. We’ve worked hard to come up with workable solutions in areas where visitor numbers are soaring. In Lumsden, we have an almost equal division between those for and against, and we we are never going to please everyone – no matter what we do.
I’m proud of the council’s roles in the Catlins initiatives where we are partnering with the Department of Conservation and the Clutha District Council, to employ a ranger during the busy visitor season. A similar arrangement with DOC in Te Anau has worked well during the past few summers.
I’d like to wish everyone an enjoyable and safe festive season, and all the best for 2018.
Gary Tong is the Southland District Mayor