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November 2020 News Update

Kia ora koutou,

Many of this year’s big milestone unknowns have now been ticked off ­– we have a new government in place here in New Zealand, and a new president-elect ready to lead the United States in its COVID recovery – all with just over a month to go until the country winds down for the holidays.

After such a tumultuous year we’re looking forward to the big re-build that will be 2021. And here at Bay of Connections, we’ve been talking about our role in making sure any regional plans for the wider Bay of Plenty are cohesive, collaborative and sustainable.

As our leadership group member James Hughes writes below, we have an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine how we live, work and play in urban centres and think about what we can do now that in 50 years we will look back at and be proud of.

The Bay of Connections data function was developed in response to a need for shared regional economic data. This month, we’re releasing our first set of monthly data insights, designed to provide a high-level overview of key indicators across the Bay of Plenty. Each quarter we will be producing more in-depth analysis of these figures.

In this newsletter, we also say haere rā to the wonderful Andy Blair who has been such a force on our leadership team. She is off to continue conquering the world wearing her multiple hats as a business owner, regional leader and mentor. We look forward to continuing to connect with her on various interconnected kaupapa in the future.

Ngā mihi,

Dean Howie

Thoughts from our Leaders

This month, James Hughes reflects on what we can do now to build the cities we will need in 50 years’ time.

It’s time to regenerate our CBDs and town centres

The coming year will be all about the COVID recovery, and for the Bay of Plenty (as in all other regions) we need to make sure investment is directed towards those activities that generate maximum financial and non-financial value for our region. A key opportunity in this regard is to invest in and regenerate our urban centres and CBDs.


Over recent decades, and throughout many New Zealand cities and larger towns, we have seen the sprawl of housing, the emergence of satellite shopping malls, and the decline (and in some cases near-death), of main street shopping areas and CBDs. Two prime examples of this are Tauranga (over 150 empty stores) and Rotorua.

And now, as companies adopt more flexible work-from-home policies and shops go online, or simply close their doors due to a lack of foot-traffic or tourism, the boarded-up shop fronts are becoming a more common sight and aren’t being filled.

COVID has accelerated a shift where central “business” districts are often no longer the place where most business takes place. But they are still the heart of our towns and cities, and we must reimagine and regenerate them – with a primary focus on building medium density, residential mixed-use areas, at scale. In other words, we need people living downtown. This will provide a massive economic injection to small and medium businesses, and begin to address a range of our other urban problems along the way.

These ‘co-benefits’ include creating lively residential areas in our town centres, enhancing nightlife, benefiting cafés and shops, adding vibrancy and creativity, and a restored sense of community. It also protects arable farmland and biodiversity at the outskirts of towns and provides the critical scale at which public transport and active transport can function effectively - enabling us to, importantly, reduce our carbon emissions.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to do this now and cater to an estimated 50,000 New Zealanders who are coming home and hoping to settle in the provinces. These are people who have lived in well-functioning, vibrant cities, who often haven’t needed to own a car, and frankly – expect more and better choices.

The economics of building more compact cities is clear. Not only does it revive local businesses, but it lessens the future infrastructure burden. The backbone infrastructure (roads, pipes etc.) is generally already in place in existing areas and adding more people both makes better use of existing capacities, and also significantly reduces long-term operation and renewal costs, when compared to alternatives.

A regenerated CBD requires a clear plan and vision – focused on great design outcomes with a mix of scales and building types. This may be some three to five story apartments, alongside terraced homes, parks, and mixed-use areas (where housing is above retail shops). Our CBDs are already located within stunning areas with great amenity, and I believe if designed well, people would flock to them.

Most would agree this needs to happen, however, delivery is another challenge. Fragmented land ownership, the capability and capacity of NZs apartment development sector, complex local and national regulations, and cost – all add to the complexity of delivering on a renewed CBD.

Kāinga Ora, a Crown agency that provides rental housing for New Zealanders in need, are beginning to show real appetite and leadership in this area, and the Government’s new Urban Development policy establishes some very useful parameters to enable good design outcomes. We now need to turn our minds to the delivery structures that will enable us to do this – not in 30 years, but the next 5-10.


We need to review how other towns and countries have tackled this challenge, what their learnings have been, and what models would suit the Bay. What is clear is that the current ‘market-led’ approach won’t deliver on these multiple outcomes, at the scale and pace required. We need to work with local partners, including iwi, investors, Kāinga Ora and councils to develop a plan to advance urban regeneration, with urgency.

James Hughes.

Our first data insights release

The Bay of Connections Data function was established to help identify, collate and share regional economic data and enable better forecasting to support investment decisions. Starting this month, we are releasing a high-level overview of key regional economic indicators to provide a snapshot of what is happening across the wider Bay of Plenty.

The Bay of Plenty’s current GDP is estimated to be down 8.4 per cent from October last year, highlighting the impact that COVID has had on our region’s economy. Nationally, GDP is down 3.4 per cent for the same period, however it is worth noting a differential in reporting - regional GDP is not adjusted for inflation like the national GDP prediction.

Another COVID impact is the increase in the number of people receiving jobseeker support across the region, with a 5.2% rise from August to September this year. Of concern for the Bay of Plenty is that Māori make up 66 percent of jobseeker support recipients.

Interestingly, some national commentators have this week been predicting a slowing of COVID-related job losses – but the national trends do not necessarily reflect the specific impacts in regions like ours. We will continue to monitor this indicator closely as the wage subsidy scheme and COVID income relief payments come to an end.

Consumer spending remains steady with a small increase on the previous month. Tourism spend for September 2020 was $132m, driven by New Zealanders exploring their own backyard. It is encouraging to see kiwi’s supporting local businesses, a positive sign for our economy.

As widely reported in the media, house prices continue to rise at pace, up a massive 17.8 percent on the previous year to an average of $709,000. Housing supply and demand continues to be an issue across New Zealand – and right across the Bay – with the pressure set to continue as kiwi’s return home from across the globe in greater numbers.


Click here for to view a larger scale version of the October profile.

Haere Rā Andy Blair

This month we farewell Andy Blair, who has served as a board member for the past eight years and most recently as Chair of our Leadership Group.

This month we farewell Andy Blair, who has served as a board member for the past eight years and most recently as Chair of our Leadership Group.


Andy wears a lot of hats as a force in geothermal work across New Zealand and the world. She will now focus her attention on her work as the director of geothermal management company Upflow, the Geothermal Business Development Lead for New Zealand, as well as director of Energise NZ, the president of the International Geothermal Association and the global chair of Women in Geothermal. In addition, Andy is currently co-chair of the Bay of Plenty Regional Skills Leadership Group and a member of the Waiariki Regional Leadership Group.

We cannot thank Andy enough for the skills, knowledge and vibrant energy she has brought to Bay of Connections and look forward to continuing to connect with her across our various relevant kaupapa.

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Friday, November 27, 2020

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