Mayoral Mouth
Christchurch Press
Saturday 9th March 2002

By Malcolm Macpherson, Central Otago District Mayor

Give a district Mayor 600 words and you're bound to get some boosterism. That's one of the things we're paid to do, and those of us newish to the job find it hardest to resist. I'm going to indulge, but it'll be short and to the point.

We are living through remarkable times in Central Otago. All the economic indicators are off the scale. It hasn't been this good since well, pick your own benchmark, but I guess at least since the 1950s.

What's happening? Grapes, for a start. Lots of new plantings transforming our landscapes, with the most exciting stories just emerging (here come the big boys!). We're attracting international attention and winning medals. Pinot noir is Central's new gold. And yes, there is a bit of gold rush feel to what's happening, but behind it is a world class product, strong international demand, clever branding and marketing, and an industry with enormous sex appeal.

There's a second boom in deer - kilometres of new fencing and some big property transactions. Dairying is taking us by surprise - in the driest part of New Zealand! The summerfruit industry is quietly re-inventing itself (at a gross $160,000 per hectare return - when you get a crop - cherries are one of the best investments on well-watered Central dirt, and they're such a neat product). Pip fruit orchardists have international buyers knocking on their doors for the first time in a while; and tourism is turning out to be much more than just jumping off bridges (and worth a lot more as well).

We are also becoming New Zealand's 'event capital', with many of this country's signal events occurring right here - the wall-to-wall horses and carriages of the annual Goldfields Cavalcade, the Alexandra Blossom Festival, Art Deco Maniototo, The Queenstown Winter Festival and Warbirds over Wanaka just next door, and scores more. 'Events' is now an industry in its own right.

Not forgetting (I can hear the phone ringing already) that the primary driver in this district's economy is still pastoral farming - with farm gate returns the best for many years, and looking good for a while yet.

Each of those areas, and more besides, are dragging in new money. What's really riveting from a local authority perspective is what follows - the infrastructure (world's most boring word), capital development and manufacturing capacity that follow on-the-land investment. And then the people - last, and not in big numbers, but soon we'll see population growth.

You can see why it's hard not to skite.

Is it all sweetness and light? Well no. Here in Alexandra, we seem to specialise in big, boisterous, noisy, drag em down and knock em out public debates. We've in the thick of one about the Blossom Festival. We've just got over one about flood protection and the preservation of heritage buildings. When construction of a new community pool became inevitable last year, we had guerilla warfare on several fronts for months.

I like to say that's healthy; but what else can you say!? Healthy or not, it happens. Frequently. It's in our blood. We get over it, of course, and carry on. And people more or less still talk to one another.

What else? We are going to have to learn to manage the effects of growth (the 'Queenstown disease') quite soon. But isn't that much better than managing decline, which is where we've been for too long? The broad sweeps of the new Local Government Act (when it arrives) will have a few people sitting on the edges of their seats - this is an authority which hasn't done 'social' in the past.

So there we are in an nutshell. Pretty exciting times - perhaps the best in more than half a century. We still take turns shooting one another in the foot - and enjoy it too much. And we're facing some interesting challenges. Rural New Zealand!


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