It’s not every week when, as Mayor, I get a good view of the potential for where things can go both in the short-term and further out, but last week was one of those weeks.
On Wednesday, Minister Michael Wood came for one of his regular visits to the district – he’s begun to clock up some serious time here and is getting familiar with our landscape and our economic and social context. It’s to our great benefit that he is both Transport Minister and Cyclone Recovery Minister for the Coromandel (and Auckland), so he’s got direct channels into the government agency that has significant levers to shape our collective destiny here.
Together we started in Thames and drove the entire Coromandel loop for an “on-the-ground” perspective on the condition of our State Highway network, and the difficulties faced by our district’s businesses and communities in the wake of Cyclones Hale and Gabrielle. We stopped off in Coromandel Town, Whitianga and Tairua talking to local business operators (see our news release on Minister Wood’s visit for more details – link to https://www.tcdc.govt.nz/Our-Council/News-Media-and-Public-Notices/Latest-News/Road-to-Recovery-Minister-Wood-visits-Business-Fund-wraps-up-and-more) before heading back to Thames via Waihi.
The closure of SH25A has already had a significant impact on our local economy. There will be ongoing challenges for many businesses between now and the early part of next year. It’s an awful thing, but a reality. We want to pull every available lever to access whatever assistance we can get for those most severely affected. I was encouraged by the Minister’s commitment to look at some tailored support to affected businesses. It was very evident from our road trip that there are very different needs around the district in individual communities, so a broad-brush approach will not work as well. These are hardworking, resilient people, and it’s been tough for them trying to survive two years of Covid and now this. Anything we can do to help, we will. Anything that the Minister can do to speed up delivery of the bridge, he will do that as well. There is sunshine ahead, we just have to get through this together.
The good thing is that active collaboration with Waka Kotahi/NZTA is strengthening and there is funding flowing through to this partnership as part of the budget relief package. I’ll also pursue funding through my role on the Waikato Regional Transport Committee. so that the Coromandel continues to be front of mind and top of budget allocations.
So that’s the immediate future. On Friday I had a glimpse of what the more distant future could hold for us. I saw this at the Thames War Memorial Civic Centre where a collective called Te Matarau – The Māori Tech Association – was hosting the inaugural E-Pā Wars | Ko Māui Hangaru ki Hauraki. Te Matarau (tematarau.tech) is a collective of Māori innovators working in the tech sector. It attracted about 130 students from about six local schools and used gaming as an introduction to pathways in the tech sector. Representatives from Microsoft, Datacom, Weta and others were in attendance – high-powered Māori in the crucial high-tech sector who are role models not just for our rangatahi but for all of us.
Elle Archer, Te Matarau Chair, told me the E-Pā Wars kaupapa is to inspire curiosity and involvement in the tech sector, to raise the involvement of Māori in this growing area to improve digital outcomes for Māori, who lag behind others in our country.
For me it was also inspirational in terms of the potential application for economic development in our district.