Posted by John Terris on Apr 04, 2018
The most recent GDP figures for the Lower Hutt economy highlighted on your front page last week have been a long time coming and could do with a bit of historical perspective. The whole thing didn’t get conjured out of a hat.
 
In the 50 years up until the late ‘80s, the years of the economic deregulation of local industry like car-building by the Labour Government,  of which I was a member, about 1 in 3 motor vehicles assembled in NZ were made here in the Hutt.  These were major industries and employed thousands of people in well-paid jobs.
 
Then the closures of Ford, GM, and the others began in 1986. With Todd Motors move to Porirua, and the collapse of componentry manufacturers like Bruggers in Wainuiomata and Pilkington Glass in Taita, a local slump in jobs and growth ensued which was to last a very long time.  People streamed off to places like  Auckland to look for work and it all began to look like the Hutt’s future was behind it.
 
Those of us on the Council with eyes to see (I had been there since 1977) saw that we really had to change what we were doing.
 
When I became Mayor we set about the rebuild, although my immediate predecessor Glen Evans certainly saw what needed to be done, which was to establish new industries.  
 
Under the  guidance of Rik Hart, whom we poached from Aussie and who had been the man behind the economic rejuvenation in Victoria by the Kennett government, and with the very capable support of the staff he recruited like Kim Kelly and Gary Craig, we developed the strategy which we believed would work best, that of turning the city into the Hutt Regional Shopping Destination. We re-configured the motorway flow by building the Dowse Interchange to provide a Gateway, and to ease blockages and redistribute traffic to the moribund Petone area, and developed, with wide consultation, a plan to assist strategic business to come in.
 
The lynchpin of this strategy was the extension of the Queensgate Mall, which we paid Westfield to build. This so outraged some on my Council that they conspired to get rid of me, which because of serious illness they succeeded in doing. The person who succeeded me as mayor had done so partly by declaring he would not have rebuilt the Mall, if it had been his decision.  
 
We built it and people came.  Today, half those who shop in the Hutt come from other parts of the region. We cut building restrictions to allow big-box retailers like Mega Mitre 10 and Pak n Save in. We transformed Jackson Street, with period lighting and signage. You could, back in the late 80’s, have fired a shotgun down the middle of Jackson Street and not struck a single soul. Today you can’t find a park there.
 
It’s taken a while but with a bit of vision and a lot of hard work, the population has started to rise again after 20 years in the doldrums,  people are looking to buy houses here, and the Regional Shopping Centre is now a reality.
 
It feels good.
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