Ali Mau: Why Gisborne's regional development plan might actually work

Aerial shot of Gisborne Getty
Alison Mau thinks the new Tairawhiti plan "might just work" for Gisborne (Getty)

OPINION: There's been a suggestion that some Kiwi small towns are dying and maybe should be left to do just that.

This came up after the Maxim Institute put out a report saying that despite some impressive population growth expected over the next few decades, it's just not going to reach some areas and they'll keep getting smaller.

But Minister for Economic Development Simon Bridges has been in Gisborne today launching another regional development plan, and it's one which just might work, thanks to the high level of local input.

For many people, their small town is not just a place where they have a house and hopefully a job. They feel a connection and it may go back generations.

But regional development plans often fail – we've seen it happen before. Sometimes they pin their hopes on some "saviour" industry that risks going the way of the last major industry the town relied upon before the mines closed or the manufacturer took its business to China. 

I've been reading about small towns in the United States and in Australia who've found the road back from near extinction is not easy.

But the one thing they do all suggest is that the local community must have a stake in what happens next. In Scottsdale, Tasmania, the Mayor said tens of thousands of dollars in "rescue packages" from the government were wasted before they realised that rural communities need to keep control of local industries and not allow big corporates to muscle them out.

The Gisborne initiative may have cracked it in that sense at least. The plan the Minister announced today has been developed by the Tairāwhiti people for the local community, and the Government, rather than just imposing something on the region, is helping out.

Home means more than a quarter acre. For others it is just a place that could be exchanged for another place, and they'll always be the ones who'll move and go where the opportunities are.

We don't feel comfortable with the idea of just walking away from a region or a town, do we? 

It may make sense economically but it does not make sense emotionally. 

This is probably one of the reasons why so much time and money's spent working on how to revive these regional economies.

Ali Mau hosts RadioLIVE Drive from 3-6pm weekdays.