Regional development to follow 'green growth' path

Waikato Regional Council's policy and strategy committee is backing a green growth approach to improving Waikato's economy and environment.

Green growth is a relatively new concept focussing on actions for achieving concrete, measurable progress across both the economy and the environment.

This approach is in line with the council's mission to provide regional leadership to balance economic and environmental outcomes to enable the social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing of current and future generations.

However, formally recognising 'green growth' gives staff a clear mandate that this approach is to be applied across all work the council does. It also enables the council to more effectively promote the principles of green growth to community and industry.

Green growth strategies can be used to help tackle issues including climate change, biodiversity decline and resource scarcity, and open up new markets by stimulating demand for green goods, services and technologies. Clear policies on green growth can also help boost investor confidence through greater certainty about how the council deals with major environmental issues.

Green growth builds on concepts in legislation which currently direct the council's work, including sustainable management in the Resource Management Act and sustainable development in the Local Government Act.

Some of the council's work already supports a green growth approach through environmental policies and regulation, such as water allocation to ensure sufficient supply for economic development and environmental protection. The council's internal organisational strategies and region-wide strategies which support green growth include:

- development of a corporate sustainability plan

- reduced energy targets for council buildings

- the recently adopted Waikato Waste and Resource Efficiency Strategy 2012

- a regional carbon strategy.

The committee heard on Tuesday that green growth represents a significant opportunity for the Waikato economy and environment, where food production, forestry and renewable electricity generation are its economic backbone. However, it needs active support at local, regional and national levels.

During the meeting the committee supported working with local councils and others to develop a project plan to establish a governance group. This group, led by industry, with representatives of local government and iwi, would develop a regional economic development strategy.

Committee chairperson Paula Southgate said: "A high-level regional economic strategy will help to harness and improve economic opportunities for the Waikato, which is important given we are not performing as well as some other regions."

An economic profile prepared by staff identified that a green growth-themed regional economic development strategy could help to unlock the export and innovation potential of key regional sectors. It would ensure economic growth and development protects natural resources and the environment.

Council chairman Peter Buckley said during the meeting: "We need to accommodate the growing population and make sure these enterprises get up and running. An economic development strategy is essential to ensuring people coming to the Waikato know where to go with their business."

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