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Published: 2004-11-24 00:00:00

The Waikato Region is ‘getting by’, and areas such as Gisborne and Northland, are in a much worse state than south Auckland, Environment Waikato’s Environment Committee meeting heard this month.

Waikato University Demography Professor Ian Pool, a former director of the University’s Population Studies Centre, said the country was dividing into three categories – ‘advantaged’ regions like Auckland and Wellington, those ‘getting by’ like the Waikato, Manawatu-Wanganui, Otago and Southland and ‘have-nots’ such as Northland, East Coast, Hawkes Bay and the West Coast.

The Population Studies Centre undertook a large study about trends in New Zealand from 1986 to 2001 in terms of demography (population growth and structure), human capital such as employment, jobs and discouraged workers, education and income and social dependency such as benefits, convictions, overcrowding and health.

It also considered how well regions were accessing Central Government and other services, and had produced some challenging results, he said.

On many indicators most regions were in a less favourable position than they were in 1986. The lowest point was 1991, but most had not yet recovered back to their 1986 status. Human capital, especially the young and most highly skilled who were the drivers of development and the source for providers of social and other services, were becoming increasingly concentrated particularly in Auckland, he said.

For many areas, access to services was difficult because of their physical geography and transport systems.

The Waikato was ‘getting by’ but with not much margin to spare. The unemployment rate was slightly above the national average, there was a lower rate of people completing high school and the region was slipping in a number of micro level indicators. Human capital was not as good as Auckland or Wellington, and the region was difficult to service because of travel distances.

Professor Pool said he was deeply impressed by the quality of work being done by local government but the changes which meant the region was well off in some ways but not as well off as in the 1980s would make a rating base problematic. Increasing population placed greater pressure on resources and infrastructure, and in turn on the environment.

Associate Professor Dr Warren Hughes outlined an update of the Waikato economy and future trends. He said the Waikato had 9 percent of gross domestic product, and the same percentage in full time employment and retail sales, but was slipping back from over 10 percent.

Agriculture would always be a huge factor for the Waikato, but the region should be fostering more ‘value added’ industries.

“If we can get the profitability of our businesses up – but not at the expense of our environment – we will be doing better than other places overseas.”