Boosting the local economy and reversing population decline are two key goals of Great Barrier Island’s ambitious new local board plan.
The local board has put building economic prosperity as a top priority in getting people to move back to the island. Job creation, faster and cheaper transport, providing broadband and cellphone coverage, affordable housing, and more education opportunities are key areas that have been identified.
Broadband and cellphone towers are high on the agenda, as it is something that will attract business people to move to the island for lifestyle reasons - and keep working at the same time.
The plan also suggests that residents and visitors should be able to buy fresh, locally-caught fish and have it cooked at local restaurants - something which current fisheries regulation prevents. Other job creation ideas include new walks, better promotion of events such as the Great Fitzroy Mussel Festival and Wharf to Wharf marathon, and stronger tourism initiatives.
Cost of travel, caused by rising fuel prices, is also of huge concern to the local community. A key priority of the board is to complete sealing of the Tryphena-Fitzroy-Whangaparoa links. The island also needs footpaths in main settlement areas for safety reasons. The board will look at providing older residents with gold cards for subsidised transport, and Okiwi airfield will be sealed and turned into a proper second airport.
Great Barrier has suffered from a 25% population decline over the past 15 years, with 50% fewer youth under 25. Only 30% of houses on the island are occupied year round. Half of households earn less than $30,000 a year, and half of income earners make less than $17,000 per annum.
If all goes according to plan, it is hoped that the population of Great Barrier will eventually return to the 1996 peak of around 1400 permanent residents. The island currently gets about 40,000 visitors a year.