A collaborative and unified regional development plan will be critical to ensure a strong and sustainable recovery from COVID-19.

That was the clear message delivered to Bay of Plenty Regional Council today alongside a paper outlining the Council’s immediate COVID-19 response. The paper summarised projects provided to the Central Government to drive economic stimulus and jobs, as well as the proposed development of a collaborative regional recovery plan to ensure a sustainable and thriving region.

Regional council Chair, Doug Leeder, says it’s vital that the plan incorporates input from central, regional and local government, iwi Māori partners, economic development agencies, industry and industry bodies and communities right across the Bay of Plenty region. We already have a number of existing competitive advantages and these provide clear opportunities to help fast-track the region’s economic recovery.

“The Bay of Plenty also has access to renewable energy, a robust and varied primary sector and a market-ready domestic tourism offering. We also recognise the growth, strength and resilience of the region’s Māori economy.

“There is the opportunity for the Bay of Plenty region to not only recover well from COVID-19, but to ensure our communities thrive by building transformational change into our recovery model. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle some of the critical challenges facing the region, in full partnership with everyone in our region, as well as the central government.

“In particular, we have a crucial opportunity to transition towards a low-carbon economy much quicker than we had anticipated.

“Regional council has had low carbon targets in place for many years as part of our planning for reducing the impact of climate change. Other environmental touchpoints such as biosecurity, biodiversity, water quality, habitat protection and diversity are also a core part of what we do.

“As a region, we now have a unique opportunity to do things in a completely different way to achieve outcomes with benefits across social, cultural, environmental and economic measures.

“The Bay of Plenty is very well placed to make this transition and to model to other parts of New Zealand how things can now be done differently. In doing so, we have a better chance of achieving long-term prosperity and wider wellbeing for residents,” Mr Leeder said.

Councillors at the meeting were also clear that the recovery plan would need to co-developed alongside Iwi-Māori and will progress further work here to build and strengthen existing partnerships.

It will also need to be built by acting locally and thinking regionally and will be progressed with business and industry, the social sector, community groups, schools and rangatahi, and all levels of government.

“This can only be achieved by working collaboratively across the region, to ensure opportunities are connected and leveraged,” Mr Leeder added.

Regional council’s general manager for Strategy and Science, Namouta Poutasi said some initial work had been done to ensure the region had strong cases to put forward to central government to meet its timeframes for ‘shovel ready’ projects designed to generate jobs in the short-term.

But she reinforced that planning could not replace vision and a collective roadmap for the region would need to build for the long term.

“There has been a flurry of activity in the past two weeks to identify projects for Government. This work has been a priority and has also necessitated some high level thinking and analysis about how the region can quickly and efficiently recover from COVID-19.

“Our role is to continue to support local and district councils with their identified projects and priorities, and to connect the dots across the region, making the most of our joint competitive advantages. It will be important to combine and corral our resources to avoid duplication to maintain momentum into the longer term.

“To keep a ‘finger on the pulse’ we’re putting a significant effort into collating and analysing data to maintain a clear understanding of where our challenges and opportunities may arise.

“It was great to progress this regional plan and get many voices around the table to sketch out a sustainable recovery for Bay of Plenty communities,” Ms Poutasi said.