Pro-Business Farry to Slash Dunedin Red Tape

By Mark Peart
Published June 4th 2004 in The National Business Review
Dunedin's council bureaucracy can expect a shake-up if city businessman Malcolm Farry becomes mayor in October.

The strongly pro-business Mr Farry is one of four candidates to have so far declared their desire to replace left-wing incumbent mayor Sukhi Turner, who is retiring after three terms in office.

Mrs Turner's decision has coincided with the council's decision to extend chief executive Jim Harland's employment contract for a further two years until March 2007.

A dentist by training, father-of-eight Mr Farry, 63, is executive director of the Farry Group of Companies, a diverse holding company of property, tourism, retailing and accommodation businesses.

"I'm totally frustrated by the bureaucracy I belong to," Mr Farry said. "A change in the organisation in terms of reducing the bureaucracy would not be that difficult. Virtually everyone involved in the bureaucracy would like to see some changes. It really just takes the next move to do that."

Mr Farry, who is in the closing stages of his second term on the council, has served as chairman of the pivotal council economic development committee since being elected in 1998.

He made no bones then about standing on an economic development ticket in part to counter perceptions that the council was anti-business.

He said things had changed since then and there would be no point standing on the same ticket now.

"The city is strong, it's vibrant, it's confident. If we're clever, and we won't have to be too clever, we can keep this [economic development] platform and move on from that, and get even greater advantages and even greater opportunities. The issues are wider now.

"When you get your economic development platform in place, you need to continue with that, because there is nothing you can get delivered unless you've got the foundations in place, which are good management, good systems and good finances."

The council has been dogged in recent months by controversy surrounding the prescriptive nature of its district plan.

It is about to defend an appeal in the Environment Court brought by two pressure groups which object to the council's intention to vary the plan so rural land can be rezoned industrial to allow more development within the city.

The anomalies in the plan have been brought home to the council by the inability of its own forestry company, City Forests Ltd, to locate a $7 million sawmill development on the Taieri Plain because of zoning issues.

Mr Farry is confident the appeal will not be upheld.

"It just doesn't make any sense for anybody in the city to be able to put us in a stranglehold, to prevent us from continuing along the pathway of success that we're already on.

"Nobody wants growth and development at any cost.

"The charm and lifestyle of Dunedin is basically why we are here but we have to have the appropriate kind of balance in sustainable growth, otherwise we don't go forward, we go backwards."

Mr Farry said the district plan was created in an era when "we were not as forward-thinking as we are now."

It had some "basic flaws" which made it difficult for progress in some areas.

Although he has historically been a staunch advocate for business around the council table, this time around Mr Farry is careful not to pigeon-hole himself as solely a standard-bearer for business.

"The city council is seen as much more enabling to business than it was prior to 1998. While I'm sure it wasn't intentionally business unfriendly, it was perceived from time to time as being business-unfriendly, and I guess perception is reality. There will still be people who perceive the council as business unfriendly ... but I think the perception of being business unfriendly has diminished quite dramatically."

Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Christie said the council had come a long way in its support for the business community, which enjoyed a rapport with the economic development unit.

"But there are other departments which do need to be worked on from the perspective of making them aware the decisions they make have a huge impact on our city's ability to do business."

They included the planning and consents departments.

"We've seen at times perhaps not a great understanding of the needs of business. In a perfect world, I guess we'd have a council that makes it easier to do business in Dunedin."

Nominations for the mayoralty and council do not open until July 23, with the election scheduled for October 9.

Others who could join the race include sitting councillor and Dunedin City Holdings chairman Paul Hudson, and lawyer Peter Chin, also a sitting councillor who came within 1400 votes of toppling Mrs Turner at the last election.

Mr Hudson is overseas and has not yet made his intentions public, while Mr Chin said he would announce his decision "in the fullness of time."

Businessman Lee Vandervis and councillors Teresa Stevenson and Leah McBey have also publicly declared their candidacy, while former mayor and sitting councillor Richard Walls has ruled out going for the job again, although he is expected to stand for the council. The election will be the first to use the single transferable vote (STV) system