Transport consistency urged to protect regions
By Dave Williams
Air New Zealand's axing of flights to regional destinations have sparked a call for a more holistic look around transport decisions so as to protect the regions.
Local Government New Zealand, which represents the country's 78 councils, wants transport decision makers to apply consistent criteria to the use, location and set up of airports, ports, road and rail.
It was prompted by Air New Zealand's decision last year to axe flights to Kaitaia, Whakatane and Westport.
The small local councils scrambled to find replacements but the process showed regions could be easily weakened by the incremental loss of transport services.
"The competitive model may actually not necessarily be in the best interests of New Zealand Inc," said LGNZ president Lawrence Yule.
Air NZ made commercial decision but the regions did not take part in the conversation even though it had large implications for them.
Other decisions, such as the Napier-Gisborne rail line closure, were also largely made on commercial grounds without thinking of the wider picture, he said.
LGNZ questioned whether there should there have been some way to have "a more proactive engagement up front between the company, central government, local government about the nature of those links that are required".
Subsidies might have to be provided if a region wanted to keep something running, he said.
"They are massive conversations and most governments shy away from them. But actually if we are going to do this properly... we are going to have to row hard up into some of these conversations," Mr Yule said.
He said it would be a challenging conversation because a lot of councils have investment in ports and airports. They would want to protect their own investment, but it might not be the best for the bigger picture.
"As a country we cannot afford not to do this."