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Published: 2016-11-29 09:00:00

Making the most of the opportunities and managing the challenges presented by Waikato’s proximity to Auckland, while planning for population shrinkage in some rural areas, is a key focus of an upcoming Waikato Regional Council-facilitated forum.

Leading academic and Massey University Professor Paul Spoonley will be speaking at the event which is the latest in a series of council sustainability forums.

Professor Spoonley, the editor of a new book “Rebooting the regions: why low or zero growth needn’t meant the end of prosperity”, says regions need to think more creatively and adopt more aggressive policies if they are to adapt successfully to economic and demographic changes.

Council chair Alan Livingston said the region had been exploring policy options through the Waikato Plan, which acknowledges that for Waikato to be successful all parts of the region need to succeed.

“Along with our colleagues in local and central government, iwi, business and other groups, we have been putting a lot of thought into planning for the region’s long-term future,” said Mr Livingston.

“This sustainability forum on growth and decline issues is a chance to look at these matters up close and develop ideas for further consideration, and hopefully provide more food for thought for the authors of the Waikato Plan as they finalise that document.”

Subjects Professor Spoonley will be facilitating discussions on include:

  • Planning for declining populations in smaller, rural communities and how they can remain sustainable
  • The need to make the Waikato attractive to migrants
  • The link between innovation and economic vitality.

Planning for population change – both gains and declines - is one of the Waikato Plan’s top priorities, said Mr Livingston.

“There is expected to be nearly half a million people living in Hamilton and the surrounding Waikato and Waipa districts by 2060 – that’s a doubling of population in the next 45 years. This brings with it many challenges. A lot of this growth will be in the over 65s category.

“But rural populations are expected to decline in the outlying parts of the region so we need to look ahead and come up with smart strategies for managing these sorts of changes.”

The opportunities and challenges presented by Waikato’s proximity to Auckland were also very relevant considerations, said Mr Livingston who recently met with Auckland’s mayor Phil Goff to discuss cross-border issues.

Matters being considered by the two regions include:

  • substantial population growth occurring in South Auckland and northern Waikato
  • potential for tighter alignment of housing and growth strategies
  • working together closely on freight and logistics matters, and transport systems
  • natural resources issues, such as water and aggregate use.

“Our two regions rely on each other and their futures are seen as being increasingly intertwined as time goes by,” said Mr Livingston.

“How well we work together to manage population growth, economic development, infrastructure issues and environmental health will be a vital part of our mutual success in responding to opportunities and challenges.”

Forum facilitator Professor Spoonley is one of New Zealand’s leading academics. In 2011, his contribution to sociology was acknowledged with the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand’s scholarship for exceptional service to New Zealand sociology.

The forum event will be at the Waikato Regional Council chambers at 401 Grey St, Hamilton East, between 1pm and 3pm on Thursday 1 December.