I often marvel at how the West Coast way of life is unduly affected by people who don’t actually live here.
It is eighteen years since the Labour Government’s announcement of an ‘historic conservation gain for West Coasters and for all New Zealanders’ which brought logging of all Crown-managed indigenous resources to an end. This decimated some smaller towns and now, coupled with the likes of the Holcim Cement Works’ closure, “no new mining” a reality, and a slump in commodity prices, the economic impact is nothing short of horrendous.
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, whose previous influence on the region was through her many years at Forest and Bird, is now Minister of Conservation and referred to ‘potential lost jobs’ being able to transition into tourism. Really? How many skilled digger operators or dump truck drivers will transition into tourism support roles? And where is the plan and support to help them do that?
Many tourism ventures are in a development stage and they face challenges that few other operators in New Zealand deal with. But there is also the outside interference to contend with which seems to be quite well-organised and orchestrated at times.
Let’s look at a few examples from an industry which is projected to bring us 1.2 million visitors each year by 2021. We’re talking 3500 people being employed and more than $800 million turnover.
Matt Newton had already felt the cruel chill of Government policies when his helicopter operation fell victim to the Taranaki oil and gas exploration closures. But now he and his family have re-surfaced flying tourists up to Ivory Lake at the head of the Waitaha Valley. After a successful summer trial the Newtons permanent concession application has run into opposition from tramping clubs claiming that wild nature is being compromised.
A proposal to build a gondola over the Franz Josef Glacier is being heavily criticised by Forest and Bird’s Canterbury-West Coast manager as risking ecological integrity. A gondola would not only ensure increased visitor numbers but would also lengthen the time tourists would spend in the area, plus the reliability on an access road that is vulnerable to the weather would be eliminated.
Whilst Westland has experienced tourist growth, Buller has seen a decline, against a backdrop of a crushing 44% decline in overall GDP. Tourism West Coast’s plan to transform the Oparara Caves near Karamea into a world class attraction is geared to attract more than 60,000 visitors a year. But the development is immediately held up over preserving the large spiders which make their home there.
These are just a small selection of the ways the region is stymied at every turn in its quest to create jobs.
Inevitably there has to be a trade-off. Yes, there will be some noise from aircraft overhead, some concrete construction, and some creatures that have to be helped to relocate – and above all, some urgency in the consenting and business development processes to create and maintain employment for the region.
This world-class wonderland is ours. I think it’s time these idealists ‘from away’ got their noses out of our business and let the region develop the tourism industry in the way it sees fit.