"A View to the South" BERL Report

This evening I attended the launch of the WWF funded BERL report, A View to the South: Potential Low Carbon Growth Opportunities for the Southern Region. With Solid Energy having purchased around 5,000 hectares of arable land with the intention of mining lignite, many in the South have been led to believe that this is the best option for growing jobs and boosting the local economy. WWF saw this report as a useful document to present other alternatives for economic growth that would be low in carbon emissions and more sustainable in the long term. The report was prepared by Dr Ganesh Nana, a very respected business and economic researcher and analyst, and his colleague Fiona Stokes.

Dr Nana presented the report to a packed meeting room in the Invercargill Library and he provided an overview of his approach and the intent of the document. The report initially looked at the current economy of the region and produced projections based on existing activity and continuing a business as usual (BAU) approach. Dr Nana's projections revealed that BAU would see the local GDP increase by about 2.34 % per annum. He saw this as a comfortable increase but was under realizing the potential of the region.

The report then compared BAU with four existing and prominent industries that had the potential to be developed further and these were: Forestry, Engineering, Education and Horticulture/Crops. Dr Nana suggested with appropriate leadership and investment in science and innovation then both GDP and job creation could be advanced well beyond the return from BAU. Within each industry the report looked at different aspects that had the potential for further development.

Dr Nana talked about the importance of exports to support a healthy economy and made much of the fact that the Southland region did more to support exports than our major cities. Considering its relatively small population (just over 2% of the total pop.) Southland's economic value to the national economy was over 11%.

Dairying representatives at the launch expressed concern with the fact that continued investment in dairying was questioned. Dr Nana explained that there needs to be a decision on how much we should invest in one industry and suggested that greater diversity in farming was important as an investment strategy. Any good investment portfolio should have investments spread over a number of interests so that any down turn in one area could be compensated by growth in another and this should also be true in farming.

Dr Nana made it clear that if we wanted our local economy to continue strongly into the future we had to take account of environmental sustainability and plan ahead. When someone suggested that we have little influence over our government and are limited in what we can progress ourselves, he disagreed. Because our economy contributed substantially to the national one, Dr Nana explained that we had considerable influence and leverage if we cared to use it effectively.

I am hoping that this report can be used in other forums around the region to spark discussion and debate. I want Southlanders to feel empowered in taking ownership of our economy and becoming unified behind a well considered regional plan that will enable us to have a sustainable and low carbon future.


Shane Pleasance said…
"...I want Southlanders to feel empowered in taking ownership of our economy..."

Who owns it now?
Thomas Murray said…
Interesting ideas here. But, although Southlanders do have some influence over the direction of the government, they might not have as much as Dr Nana suggests. The government has proven their determination to follow ideological policies despite plenty of sound advice advocating for alternatives – the debate over the roads of national significance is one example. The same goes for local and regional councils who receive submissions but do not engage in serious discussions with the public, instead relying on legal processes to resolve any disagreements with plans etc.
If we want to spark creative discussion around regional planning we should seek to improve processes of public engagement so such discussions can be used effectively in policy development. After all, how many people have the political/economic power and the legal and institutional expertise to effectively influence governments or “leverage” desired policy developments as Dr Nana believes possible.
bsprout said…
Shane, at the moment we are inclined to be reactive in the way local authorities manage new economic proposals. If Solid Energy want to mine lignite then there is a regulatory process that must be followed (that is dictated by legislation through government at a national level) to approve their proposals.

Some councils feel constrained by the RMA and although they do have regional plans that follow some broad direction many projects slip through because although inappropriate in many ways they satisfy regulations. The projects may not be compatible with the wider interests of the area or support the general direction of the local economy. For instance an industrial development may actually tick all the boxes to gain approval but could be incompatible with the scenic values and tourist focus that provides the main income of an area.

The issue with fracking in New Zealand is that if it is allowed to occur on good arable land there is the potential that it may damage aquifers and render the land useless for future farming. This has happened in Australia and caused the "Lock the Gate" movement to develop (led by farmers). There needs to be a way that a region can have greater autonomy on deciding the best use of the local resources based on what is sustainable and won't destroy the potential of the land for future generations.

There needs to be a sensible balance between the interests of the nation, the best interests of a region, and the rights of individual land owners. While people who own land should have certain ownership rights anything they do should not affect the rights of others or destroy the viability of the land in the future.
bsprout said…
I agree, Thomas, I would like to see the development of regional plans that are shared by environment and regional councils. These plans would be developed through expert, independent advice (like Dr Nana's report) and input from community and business interests.

The plans should be guided by certain principles like environmental and economic sustainability and meeting the social and community aspirations of the people. Lignite mining would not likely get approval through a regional plan because it is not sustainable environmentally or economically (it only has a limited life and much of the land will not be able to be farmed afterwards). Lignite mining also doesn't meet community aspirations as there is evidence that most mining towns suffer from negative social and economic outcomes (there are few wealthy and thriving coal mining towns).

Shane Pleasance said…
Dave, so you are proposing some sort of democratic process for economic development?
bsprout said…
Shane, democratic process is important, the trick is in deciding how much should be decided by the people (this could mean endless referenda and people voting on things they have little knowledge of) or how much is left to elected officials to decide.

Any decision that impacts on communities should involve consultation with stake holders, a reference to appropriate and relevant evidence/research and an understanding of long term consequences.

The best form of governance is said to be a benevolent dictator who seeks sound advice, but democratic systems are the next best thing although they take different forms and have varied success.
Shane Pleasance said…
Thank you for the lesson on forms of government.

So is that a yes or a no to democratic process for deciding economic development in Southland?
bsprout said…
Shane, I guess the answer is yes, but what I was trying to explain is that I have no idea what your understanding of democratic processes are to know how to best answer your question. What are your views on a good process for developing the local economy?
Shane Pleasance said…
Entrepreneurs might not feel comfortable throwing capital at the vagaries of a possible majority. If it were me, well, I would go somewhere it would be easier to make a buck.

I suspect others might do, too.

"When the productive have to ask permission from the unproductive in order to produce, then you may know that your culture is doomed."

The government does have a role to play protecting property rights and upholding contracts.

Thats about it.

bsprout said…
Shane, do you find it acceptable for one individual to exploit his land in a manner that destroys the ability of those around him to use their land in the manner in which they would like to?

Is this not giving permission for unsustainable practices that will compromise the use of resources or land for following generations?

When you claim it is the productive asking permission from the unproductive, is it really that simple? Often a consent involves notifying other productive people who are connected to the land involved in the consent.

What rights do you think a dairy farmer has in the use of his land to make a profit? If they poison the aquifers through leeching urea and who should take responsibility?
Shane Pleasance said…
Now I am curious - how did I give you the impression that it was ok to destroy property?
bsprout said…
Shane, when you have limited government and little regulation, how would you control and manage poor environmental practices on farms?

You appear to rely on industries to self regulate, but this has been proven to be a dangerous approach.
Shane Pleasance said…
I am getting sick of hearing myself say that the government has a role in protecting the rights and property of its citizens.

At what point did I give the impression that it was ok for one to damage the property of others?

Just keen to see what you heard when I said what I said.

I thought for a moment we were having intelligent debate, then you resort to emotive rhetoric again: "You appear to rely on industries to self regulate, but this has been proven to be a dangerous approach."

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