Mayoral candidate questions & answers


After canvassing our members as to what questions we would like our current mayoral candidates to answer 5 questions were selected and put to the candidates.  The questions and the responses are below.  Candidates have be listed in no particular order


  1. Business friendly council

Business people and just about everyone else want the place where they live, work and play to be the best possible. They want a city or town with a future and for their council to state what it looks like and how they are going to make it happen.  It needs to be easy to do business with our Council. Regulations, compliance and consenting must be development-friendly.  How would your leadership enable a business friendly council?


Stu Bell

I would have the Council sign up to the LGNZ excellence programme which is about assessing and improving the Councils performance and at the same time have the Council work with the Business Community to identify the areas where the Council and Business relationships can be improved.


Kay Brittenden

We are talking customer service here – It is up to the council to instruct the CEO of their plans and then it is for the CEO and the council staff to formulate a strategy where this is happening.

My Management style has always been one of an open door policy – I would expect feedback from our customers and the CEO as to how our council is doing.

I personally would be indicating to the CEO that I still want regulations, compliance or consents that ensure trust in this council – I wouldn’t want to compromise on quality.


Matt Keene

  • Initiate an immediate independent analysis into how business friendly council is. The terms of reference for that analysis need to take into account that council’s statutory responsibilities must not be weakened by a business friendly culture.
  • Establish a culture of collaboration and partnership between council and business based on the premise that what is good for Whāngārei is good for all of us.
  • Establish a shared understanding between council and business – council needs to understand how local businesses operate and businesses need to understand council’s goals and responsibilities. The Chamber of Commerce plays a vital role in this by being the liaison between council and business.
  • Council needs to provide clarity and certainty to business around planning and regulation.


Sheryl Mai

I recognise the potential benefit of setting up a business advisory group so businesses could tell us how to help them and how to make the district more prosperous.  We absolutely must strive to build a reputation of being a business friendly council.


Ash Holwell

Loaded question. You are equating ‘best’ with ‘business friendly.’ Whilst this is certainly important, not all people who want ‘best’ will think that a blanket ‘business friendly’ approach will be the way to get there – creating the best place to live, work and play is much more complex than that.    My leadership would enable a business friendly council by providing a platform for which we could come together, as an entire district, to create a strong vision for a future that allows Whangarei to survive, prosper, and care for everyone who lives here. A strong,  clear vision, that is more articulated than ‘the ultimate living environment,’ would allow us to decide what business is good for the district, and what business is not.

Fostering local business is key to creating a resilient district. Regulations, compliance, and consenting must focus on an outcomes-based model, if we are to create innovative ways of developing our future.

I completely agree that it needs to be easy to do business with our council, just as it needs to be easy to do everything with council our.

Our city has a future. It has a bright future. It will be made up of many innovative small businesses that employ energised and excited people young and old, leading the way for Aotearoa. It will be made up of increasingly diversified larger businesses which provide long-term career development options for the people who live here, and effectively use our land and resources for production. It will be made up of increasingly blurred lines between work and play; it will be made up of a younger generation for whom social enterprise is more aspirational than corporate business; and it will be made up of thousands of skilled, visionary, hard working and busy people, who want to create a healthy, sustainable, abundant, caring, bold and innovative new future for each other.


David Blackley
As a relatively successful businessman, I have good business principles and an array of resources and investors at my fingertips that I can access readily.

My leadership style is one of honesty, trustworthiness and the ability to unite a team for a greater good and therefore encourage people to give their best. I have considerable directorship and governance experience including directorships in companies that protect and grow the interests of both public and private investors.

Under my leadership, the Council will have a greatly enhanced and more positive attitude towards businesses, and developers, we will go well beyond others to encourage businesses to grow and develop in Whangarei and make Whangarei a true business hub for Northland.

I will also encourage council staff to be less risk averse and to look outside the square to find solutions to problems that businesses are facing, as I believe there are few problems that cannot be solved by a good dose of common sense and open dialogue. I will be personally answerable and available at the drop of a hat to meet with both existing and new business on a one on one basis. Business and growth is my life and my passion.





  1. Business attraction

There is an exodus from Auckland to the north because of lower housing costs provides an opportunity to grow the region’s economy.   Councils can help create an environment which attracts businesses to the area.  Is attracting business to Whangarei something council should actively be involved in and how would you help do that?


Stu Bell

I wouldn’t spend ratepayer’s money on actively trying to attract new businesses from outside the district moving here. Creating the environment that in the first instance makes things better for existing local businesses, but naturally will also be attractive to other businesses setting up or moving here, I would do. Working with the local business community and including them from the start of our planning processes rather than at the back end will deliver better outcomes for everyone.


Kay Brittenden

Yes, I would promote Northland within other councils, Industry, Business Bodies, Government and Tourism by building strong personal relationships. I think Tourism is the lynch pin for Northland – business will grow around tourism as well as this Northland will then be better known nationally and internationally.

Council is a business like any other business you need to look for market opportunities and make the most of them.  Council needs to be able to move quickly within the business environment and needs to think outside the square when solving problems.


Matt Keene

  • Yes council should be involved in helping to attract business to Whāngārei by;
    • Collaborating with the regional economic development agency Northland Inc.
    • Establishing and promoting a business friendly council culture.
    • Taking a holistic view to attracting businesses to Whāngārei to ensure that new business owners and employees and their families see Whāngārei as a desirable to locate to. This means that cultural and place making assets of Whāngārei (Hatea Loop, Parihaka walkways, sculpture walk, performing arts sector, HWMAC, Hihiaua Cultural Centre) need to be recognised by council and citizens of the district as essential components of Whāngārei’s identity.



Sheryl Mai

Under my leadership for the 2016-2019 term I would maximise council’s involvement with the Northland Regional Council [the body tasked with economic development for the region] and Northland Inc to open up further opportunities for our district.


Ash Holwell

People make business. If we make it easy for people to create business, and businesses, then we will make valid use of the many exciting people looking to move here from Auckland. Not only could WDC be attracting business to Whangarei, it needs to be focused on attractive business. It is not good enough to open the doorway to more large businesses which will rout our CBD; businesses which will continue to dismantle our manufacturing base; businesses which will replace high-employment modes of doing business with automated, low-employment one; or businesses which will outsource their labour and export their profits.

The people coming from Auckland need to be reassured that there is a city to live in here. Inner city living is a priority for those wanting an urban lifestyle. The business that is created through the proximity of people is the foundation that cities are based on. I feel a review of the current SUIP rating system is needed to help foster a busy and enticing central city. I feel an expansion of the current Village Planning model council is trialling is necessary to rebuild smaller urban and rural hubs, to create efficient ways for people to share wealth, resources and a diversity of land use modes.

I feel that many in my generation are the ones wanting to move. It is my generation who can no longer afford to live in Auckland. In order to attract them, their business, and their goodness for our district, we need leadership which looks to their futures.


David Blackley
Yes attracting businesses to Whangarei is very important to our region and something that with my leadership and our Council will be actively involved in.

Firstly there needs to be an attitude change within Council, and this can only start from the top, where we need to have an “Open for Business” stance, within our Councillors, and we want to work with the Chamber to encourage this attitude change.

Some of the things that will occur are: Changes to the ratings for commercial properties, a solution focused council where issues are not problems just opportunities to be solved, encouraging business growth areas or speciality areas so that the community can find the businesses easier, encouraging technology or education hubs so our businesses are better connected, but most importantly connecting businesses to areas within our Whangarei that need help and want help.



  1. Fostering business growth

What are our competitive advantages, strengths and weaknesses and how can these be used to foster business growth.  For example how these competitive advantages could be used to address vacant commercial property within the CBD.


Stu Bell

Our number one competitive advantage is that and we are not far up the road from NZ’s biggest city. Our number one strength is that the Whangarei district is a great place to live. Our number one weakness is the state of the road mentioned earlier and other transport connections we have to the rest of the country. Because of our proximity to Auckland and the overflow from there to the Whangarei district we have population growth already happening. With that business will have an increasing number of people to provide goods and services for.  But at a local level so long as our Council rates are increasing faster than peoples incomes people will have less to spend. The difference between our rates increases compared to increases in incomes is our number two weakness. For businesses outside of those doing work for the Council, year on year as things are currently, the situation will continue to get worse. This is further exacerbated because at the same time the rates businesses are paying are also increasing while their incomes are being affected as above. I would cap rates increases to CPI inflation preferably but at the most LGCI inflation.


Kay Brittenden

The life style in our area, the commute or the lack of commute works to our advantage.

We need to promote ourselves wherever possible – nationally and internationally.

We have the port – this needs to be promoted as part of our competitive advantage to foster business growth.

We need to be looking at future markets and where we can best spend our promotional dollars.

We need to look at streamlining processes so that business wants to come to Northland.

We need to encourage Professional businesses to the CBD – in the past people came to town to go to the lawyer, doctor etc and that lead to retail development around these businesses.


Matt Keene

  • Strengths – physical environment (beaches, Poor Knights), Māori culture, proximity to Auckland as primary entry point for international visitors, proximity to Bay of Islands, arts sector, marine industry, our people (volunteers who run community organisations), relatively low cost of living
  • Weaknesses – poor transport options (airport, rail), poor intra-sector coordination leading to silos e.g. the arts sector which needs a co-ordinated strategy to leverage visitor to the HWMAC, negative perception of schools and crime
  • One of Whāngārei’s competitive advantages is our arts and creative sector which is attracted to the existing arts infrastructure (e.g. The Quarry Arts Centre) and a lower relative cost of living. Whāngārei also has 2 big art sector projects in the pipeline – HWMAC and the Hihiaua Cultural Centre. With increased arts focussed tourism a logical consequence of these developments, collaboration needs to take place between council, Chamber of Commerce, CBD property owners and the creative sector with the aim of developing arts focussed businesses and activities in the CBD.


Sheryl Mai

The district has some strong competitive advantages; our climate, deep water port, proximity to Auckland, Digital infrastructure including UFB, productive land and a willing and able work force.


Businesses in growth sectors need to convey their skill needs to schools, communities of learning, tertiary and education providers to ensure fit-for-purpose education and training.


We also need a more targeted tertiarly education sector and I will capatilise on my already developed relationships with other regional leaders as well as central government to lobby for better education outcomes, through a tertiary hub.


I want Council to work with CBD landlords and businesses to reach concensus on the way forward for the city centre.  Retailing and commercial office use is changing faster than many people can keep up with and council and land owners need to have a plan that is as future proofed as possible.


Ash Holwell

Let me be clear. There are many distinctions to what various businesses do, what they produce, how they treat their people, how they affect the long term viability of a district, and whether they are good for us or not. I do not support a blanket policy that looks to business growth above all else. I support policy that allows us to foster the business that is good for the people who live here.

In regards growth. I was born in 1986. I have known nothing other than a pervasive chasing of growth in this country. The whole time I was learning to walk, talk, and survive without nappies people were losing their jobs. I was six when the mother of all budgets doubled child poverty overnight. That child poverty has gotten catastrophically worse since then. At one point this year, the emergency housing trust in Whangarei had 46 families on it’s waiting list, and roughly 60% of them were working families. In the 1970’s, on average, it took the equivalent of two year’s full salary to purchase a home to live in. That same task now takes six to seven years’ salary. My generation leave university with massive amounts of debt, are faced with violently rising house prices, and only know a minimum wage that is about $5 per hour less than what they can acceptably live on.

What I want to know of the other candidates, is how their specific version of business growth will address these issues. The current business-as-usual is failing, and we need a new vision if we are to leave a world to our children within which they cannot just subside in debt, but live, flourish, create business and have the ability to leave something for their children.

Our competitive advantage, in terms of empty building stock, is the empty building stock itself. Clearly. The forefront of innovative business in Aotearoa is full of small, young, agile business practices that are largely eschewing traditional understandings of economics, by revitalising the small-scale manufacturing sector, and striving to become social enterprises, rather than be solely profit focused. I completed by Bachelor of Industrial/Product Design in 2007, when mass customisation, small-scale production processes and the ability to cater effectively to incredibly niche markets, were already pervasive within the product design industry. Now, ten years later, the methods that people are able to produce products that people love have expanded exponentially, and creating cult customer bases which support the vision of their businesses is standard practice. This high level of innovation needs space. Wellington’s empty inner city spaces are currently becoming occupied by factories producing food goods, young people creating large scale entertainment opportunities, and temporary shops and services which provide a unique experience for citizens. In Whangarei, we have this in two places. Wood Common, and ONEONESIX. The stories of these places, when told to those who live in Auckland or even Wellington, elicit longing and a desire to move here. To be a part of some of the most exciting regeneration and redevelopment processes going on in the country. Memory Lane, Mint Floral, Brothers, and DAN BLK are all examples of innovative young businesses which have filled empty shops in Whangarei in the past two years, and are flourishing. The solution is in the problem.

As a district, our strengths are in our world famous boat builders; our intensely beautiful landscapes, combined with our indigenous histories and the rise of experiential tourism throughout the world; our international leadership in the creation of a local food production industry; the proximity of our city to waterways, which over the past two decades has been the major focus of every major western city with a waterfront (Auckland, Rotterdam, Vienna, to name some I have lived in); and our highly developed sense of care, duty, and respect for each other. We volunteer more than anywhere else in the country in Whangarei, meaning, in a business sense, we get more ‘value for money’ out of our people than anywhere else. At a human scale, we’re willing to work with and for each other, to make it the better place to live, work and play mentioned above.


David Blackley

With all the beaches, bush, and fibre connections, the only aspect we are missing is people, people, people.

Some of Whangarei’s competitive advantageous to other regions include but not limited to; environment, proximity to Auckland, proximity to the Bay Of Islands, the largest Deep Water Sea Port in New Zealand, availability of land, price of land, fast fibre connections and close proximity to the next overseas data entrance to New Zealand and a labour pool that simply needs encouragement and a range of jobs.

Sadly some of Whangarei’s weaknesses include but not limited to; high ratings for commercial properties, low social economic status of our community, presently arguing councillors with no business direction, high unemployment, and rules upon rules within Council purposely slowing down the progress of Whangarei.

Some of the biggest strengths that Whangarei includes but limited to; the ability to knuckle down and get the job done, a very strong Scottish, Maori and mixed heritage, and an ability to look outside the square to find a solution as we have still retained our rural practicality.

When we combine all of these, Whangarei has a lot of hope and ability to grow, however it needs a Mayor with a strong business sense to lead the process, connect the community, and encourage the doors to stay open for business and not one that makes and breaks promises.


  1. Shared services

Some council have better resources and capabilities than others, so they need to share them, to capitalise on their respective areas of strength. So how can council maximise our regions resources and not duplicate.


Stu Bell

This is happening already.  Transport was the first cab off the rank.


Kay Brittenden

With any sort of sharing of resources there has to be a relationship built on trust – in my experience this takes some time to do and we may have to go first (so to speak).  I have found that by keeping confidences and sharing with others they will reciprocate.


Matt Keene

Continue improving relationships established with the regular meeting the mayor / commissioner and CEO of each of the 3 district councils (Whāngārei, Far North and Kaipara) and the NRC. Collaboration, communication and co-operation between the councils is essential to develop and maintain a combined register of capabilities / resources.


Sheryl Mai

In this last term of Council, the region’s leaders have worked together as never before to achieve cost-effective shared outcomes for Northland, including the establishment of the Northland Transportation Alliance.  We must continue to progress existing shared service arrangements and plan for enhanced work in this area.  The benefits from developing these positive relationships will be long-lasting.

Whenever possible tenders for service or supply should be awarded to local businesses.  Council is very conscious of the need to get best value for ratepayers, and recognises that employing locals as well as retaining profits within the district is best for our community.


Ash Holwell

Whangarei’s primary resources are our climate, our land and our harbour. The area of Parihaka used to support 17 hapu, and at one time was the largest city in Aotearoa. Whangarei-te-rerenga-parāoa is so named as the gathering place of the whales. Ngapuhi were often the dominant tribe of Aotearoa because of their ability to grow food year round. We now have a widespread food production industry based on a single product, milk, and another low value product being produced on large tracks of land, pinus radiata. Whilst Fonterra has made some progress in creating value-added products, it is still limited, and the environmental destruction they seem to require to create low value goods is unacceptable. Commercial electricity prices in New Zealand, and other considerations, prevent value-added goods to be created from our timber products. We are left with a landscape that is susceptible to economic and environmental fluctuations, and with a land that increasingly in unable to employ people.

New Zealand is the most urbanised country of all the OECD nations. 86% urban. It’s an insane strategy for a country, and particularly for Northland, not to utilise our optimal growing conditions to create products which are of high international value, and are able to employ large numbers of people.

As a council, I believe we need to densify our urban areas, effectively creating exciting cities, towns and villages,that are efficient and provide for the people who live there. We need to diversify our rural areas, protecting ourselves from fluctuations in global markets, and providing employment through higher value goods, and creating opportunities for value-added products.


David Blackley

The most important aspect of shared services is having a good understanding of what the other Councils in our Regions can offer each other.  As someone who shares the same background as the other regions mayoral candidates and who has worked previously with one of the other Mayors I am sure we will be able to help each other by working together to grow the Northland region as a whole.

So there are more than likely many services that Whangarei will be able to offer the other regions, since Whangarei has the largest population basis, and the largest Council with over 300 staff, so why wouldn’t we all work together is the question I would ask the Chamber.

With the likelihood of 3 business focused Mayors in the three district councils, all of whom share a vision and have business experience and the ability to drive economic growth, we will achieve greater success when negotiating with central government to not only get what is required now but also a good degree of ‘catch-up’ funding.




  1. Council tender processes

We’ve seen some tenders for services supplied to businesses outside of our local.   Can you give us your view on the tender process for contracts in councils and do you think that work should remain with local businesses; if so what mechanisms would be available to achieve this.


Stu Bell

My view is the WDC’s tender process for contracts needs to be looked at again and the benefits of locally owned businesses providing services to the Council needs to be recognised in the Council’s procurement policy. The procurement policy dictates how Council tenders for services.


Kay Brittenden

Yes, we should focus on using local businesses in the tender process.  I presume that when making tender decisions there is some sort of weighting consideration.

I am also aware that we need to be fiscally responsible and so the contract dollars would also be part of the weighting process.


Matt Keene

Council should have a procurement policy but this should not mean a blanket acceptance of local contractors. Council should show “buy local” leadership but this must be balanced with financial accountability to citizens. For lower-value projects / contracts, I will advocate for a procurement policy matrix that includes a positive weighting for local contractors as one of its measures. For high-value projects I will advocate for a two-envelope procurement policy where the project bid evaluation team initially only ranks proposals on non-price criteria (without knowing the bid price) and then incorporates the cost of each bid into the evaluation model.


Sheryl Mai

When a long term or very high value of works (or both) is to be carried out, a higher level of rigour is required in the contract and tendering process.  In very large value contracts, weighted attributes ensure a contractor is capable of providing the best quality of service to our community and best value to our ratepayers, both directly and indirectly.


Ash Holwell

I support the creation of a two-envelope system for council tenders. The first envelop addresses the critical capabilities, holistic considerations, and specific criteria of the tender. The chosen tender then has it’s second envelope opened, indicating the proposed cost of the tender, and negotiation is commenced to reach a contract price sustainable for all parties involved. Within this process I would like to see a stronger emphasis on long term thinking, and care placed on the wider repercussions, benefits and advantages these contracts could have for the people of Whangarei.

Too much council time is spent deliberating in confidential. Often this is putting the commercial wants of large corporations from outside of Whangarei over the basic needs of the people who actually live here. Enough. Let’s be transparent, not because we should be, let’s be transparent because we can be – because we are looking after the people whom we represent.
David Blackley

There should always be a higher preference to using local suppliers and contractors providing they have the skills and expertise required. However they must also be willing to price competitively and they must be willing to go the extra mile not only because they are local, but because they care about the work that they do.

In my previous life as a group builder and developer in the Bay of Plenty, I encouraged our local suppliers to help each other, and by looking after each other we were able to make sure that our prices were fair and reasonable, this also helped by regularly going out to tender for not only checking prices, but seeing if there were other local contractors who could offer a service better.

Therefore, as the Mayor of Whangarei, I would encourage regularly tendering work out, on many projects, changing the attributes so there would be a higher weighting towards local expertise, and making sure that service and reliability was some of the major aspects that we scored on.  For we all know, sometimes the cheapest price is not always the best services.

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