Recovery may be long and slow, council told

Before Covid-19, Central Otago’s economy and development was going ‘‘great guns’’.

That had since changed, Central Otago District Council economic development manager Nick Lanham told councillors at a full council meeting yesterday, saying the council needed to act.

‘‘The situation is expected to change significantly.’’

While the depth and duration of the looming economic decline was not yet clear, modelling suggested recovery was expected to take up to five years, he said.

Presenting the economic development recovery plan, Mr Lanham said, pre-pandemic, Central Otago’s economy generated about $1.3billion in 2019.

Then, there were 13,155 jobs — including seasonal and part-time — and the district’s economy had outperformed the rest of New Zealand over the decade to 2019.

Mr Lanham said while Queenstown was the ‘‘epicentre’’, Covid-19 would not leave Central Otago’s economy unscathed and initial forecasts were for employment to fall by 10.5%, above national level estimates of 9.8%.

Central Otago house prices were predicted to fall by 11% in the next 12 months.

There were some strengths across the district and Central Otago’s horticulture and viticulture sectors, alongside sheep and beef farming, would cope well as the backbone of the district’s economy, he said.

However, seasonal labour issues would be compounded by border closures — something that concerned councillors.

Cr Stephen Jeffery said when the fruit season started the critical labour shortages would become ‘‘political’’ and there would have to be some action taken by central government to address that.

Cr Martin McPherson said Central Otago’s situation would be one shared by Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay, but the relocation of workforces needed to be targeted.

Domestic visitors to Central Otago accounted for 76% of tourism spending in 2019 compared with 37% in Queenstown, Mr Lanham said before the council adopted the plan.


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