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Communities can benefit from ‘localism’

23 July 2014

For immediate release

Local government sector discusses how communities can benefit from ‘localism’

Three highly regarded speakers teamed up to present their views of localism to the annual Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) conference, held in Nelson.

The word ‘localism’ is becoming a world-wide trend and the idea of strengthening local governance by empowering councils and their communities to address issues of social and economic development is becoming increasingly important.

While ‘localism’ is occurring under various guises in many countries, it all begins with the notion that local people, working with their local governments, are best placed to know and understand the issues affecting their communities.

Kobus Mentz, recognised as one of Australia’s leading urban practitioners and thinkers; Suzie Johnson, a successful entrepreneur from small town Shannon; and Thames-Coromandel District Council Chief Executive David Hammond all profiled localism from a number of perspectives.

Mr Mentz says that how partnerships are formed is important to making things happen in a community. He discussed a number of planning projects where various entities had been involved in attracting capital, for an outcome that would benefit a community, such as the retail environment University Hill in Melbourne that was enabled by zoning and came to fruition through local government working with business, and a creative quarter in Melbourne that saved heritage buildings and became a place in the community for creative industry jobs to locate.

“Having the right conversations with right people in right way is pertinent to an outcome. Councils have a critical role to play in setting the pre-conditions for employment growth and community well-being, which underpins sustainable communities.”

Mr Hammond shared Thames-Coromandel District’s experience in designing governance institutions and decision-making processes to strengthen localism by empowering community boards. Thames-Coromandel District extended the role of its community boards to make their role more integrated, enabling them to make more decisions without going back through the council.

“There is an increasing demand amongst our people for change and they’ve been very vocal about this, wanting quicker speed from services and more flexibility. Populations changing leads us in local government to think about innovation in partnerships and service delivery, and also innovation in the management and governance of local authorities. For me, it is about changing so we can harness potential and innovation in communities to drive growth.”

Suzie Johnson, the business owner behind fashion and giftware store Oosh, owns several commercial/retail buildings in Shannon where she and her family live. She believes innovative investment can stimulate the economies of small towns.

“I’m a creative brain not an academic. I think in small towns, there is big profit. Shannon has 18,000 cars a day driving through it so I thought the main street was asking for something to happen to it. We got amongst the council and had a meeting with town to move it forward and did cosmetic things around town

like putting up hanging baskets and fixing the loos that got the community involved. For example, we had kids planting stuff. It’s about networking and asking the right people for help, in a positive way.”

The 2014 LGNZ Conference took place 20-22 July at Nelson, with more than 550 local government delegates attending to take part in master class sessions, hear presentations from high profile speakers about significant issues and opportunities facing the sector. The theme of the conference was Powering Local Economies, Building Vibrant Communities.


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