Mon, Oct 23, 2023 8:00 AM
After one year in the top job as mayor of Marlborough, Nadine Taylor talks with Judene Edgar about building her team, navigating the challenges of recent weather events and what’s ahead for Marlborough.
It’s a job that could very easily overwhelm, being on-call 24/7, public speaking, civil defence emergencies, media interviews, endless meetings, limitless reading, juggling competing commitments… the list goes on.
But for Mayor Nadine Taylor, who is one year into her new role after a resounding victory in 2022, the real overwhelm is the sense of pride she feels for her region. “I get so many invitations to award ceremonies, business functions, and school, cultural and community celebrations, and while I can’t get to them all, they remind me of how much we have to celebrate and be proud of.”
Originally from the Awatere, Nadine attended Seddon School and Marlborough Girls' College before leaving the region to study history and political science at the University of Canterbury. But the call home was too strong, and alongside her husband Graham, they’ve run Legacy Fishing, a commercial rock lobster fishing company, for nearly 30 years.
Nadine’s journey into politics started in 2016, topping the polls in the Marlborough Sounds Ward. In her first term as a councillor, she established and chaired the Te Ao Māori sub-committee, and was a council representative on the Picton Smart and Connected group. Topping the polls once again in 2019, she was appointed deputy mayor and chair of the assets and services committee, as well as leading the council’s economic recovery response plan and civil defence committee.
So, in July 2022 when Mayor John Leggett confirmed that he would not be re-standing, it was of little surprise when he announced that he would be nominating his deputy Nadine for the role of mayor.
“I’d given it a lot of thought and it just felt like the natural next step,” she says. Having navigated Covid-19 and the July 2021 flood, she felt prepared for the role. But one month later she would find herself responding to the impacts of a further weather event, with over twice the scale of damage of the previous year – an event that dominated the election trail and now her mayoralty.
Elected with over 10,000 votes more than her next highest opponent, Nadine remains very humbled by the trust that the community has put in her. “My first reaction was absolute excitement – I was so thrilled that the community said yes – but then it hits you, ‘gosh, I’m mayor’.” With six councillors and the mayor not re-standing, Nadine had a new team to build.
Her priority was bringing everyone in to take the time to understand their skill sets, interests, and where their passions lay. “We had a great mix of returning and new councillors and I wanted to make the most of the combination of experience and new skills on offer,” she says. “People work best when they’re passionate about what they do, so I wanted to find out what areas they wanted to contribute to so that they could play to their strengths.”
However, she says they were all acutely aware of the challenges that lay ahead of them, and that they needed to work together, and with government and their communities, to find solutions. “Building the new team was relatively easy, because all of the councillors were motivated to be part of a collaborative and cohesive team.”
One of their top priorities was the cut-off communities in the Marlborough Sounds. Landslides, dropouts, and debris had devastated over 670km of the roading network, adding to the issues still to be rectified after the July 2021 storm. While many of the Sounds’ roads were originally built as local access tracks, residents have relied on them for decades, so the Marlborough Sounds Future Access Study is important to our communities and their connectivity, says Nadine.
“Being able to provide access is critically important and we need network-wide solutions that will stand the test of time and weather. We’ve been working closely with our community, holding on-site meetings, and conducting a survey with over 1700 responses, which is fantastic.” But she also acknowledges that the solutions are bigger than what Marlborough District Council can deliver alone and that they have to face up to the challenge of considering resilience and hazard adaptation for the transport network.
“We’re one of the first councils to have to consider how and where we build back roads, at scale,” she says. The draft plan, which was released in June, proposed to rebuild roads in the Marlborough Sounds over a number of years at a cost of $160 million, with marine transport back-up options.
“As many of the fixes are complex, we need to ensure the right solution for each area is agreed upon, the appropriate design is completed, and adequate funding is in place.”
Despite this, Nadine says that there have been a lot of positive outcomes in the past year, and lots more to look forward to. “While we always rally and are stronger together during an emergency, we also need to find those opportunities to celebrate each other,” she says. “We have so many good things happening across Marlborough, we need to shine a spotlight on them.”
The biggest celebration recently was the opening of Blenheim’s new $20 million library and art gallery in May. Nadine says the new facilities had been 10 years in the making and would be a centre of knowledge, information, and activity for everyone in Marlborough. “It is one of the most significant projects ever undertaken by council and has been the work of many hands.”
“The community has recognised that it’s so much more than a library and I’ve been receiving so many glowing emails… some just say ‘WOW,’ whereas others are stories of how they are using it or about going there as a family on a rainy day and reading or playing Lego together.”
Located beside the Quays on the Taylor River Reserve, the location was designed to provide a lively cultural precinct that will entice people and activity. Its new name, Te Kahu o Waipuna – or the protective cloak of Waipuna – which was gifted by local iwi in June, recognises its riverside location.
While at the ceremony, Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni also announced $578,000 for Marlborough’s new technology and innovation hub, expected to be open later this year. The hub aims to foster start-ups and boost the agritech sector, increase productivity, and enhance local investment opportunities for entrepreneurs.
“If you want to transform your economy then you need to quietly shift the dial, and council is ideally placed to lay the foundation for business to do the work,” she says. “We have so many innovative, future-focussed businesses, particularly within the aquaculture, aviation and viticulture industries.”
She recently attended the one-day Future of Work conference aimed to highlight what the workplace of tomorrow looks like for Marlborough's young people, and to inspire them to become part of the region's future. Over 1,500 students attended the event which showcased over 40 industries, 80 businesses and tertiary education providers. “Watching them engage with people at the coalface and seeing them recognise the depth of potential and exciting things happening here in Marlborough was really encouraging.”
For Nadine, it’s not about stopping young people from leaving the region, but about showing them the careers and future they can have when they return. “I think it’s good for young people to leave and work, study and travel, but we need to make it a place they want to come back to – our community is richer for it.”
While she recognises the increasing rifts and polarisation within communities across New Zealand and the globe, she says that she is working hard to strengthen and connect Marlborough communities.
Having a shared vision and working co-operatively to positively empower your communities and businesses is important. “One of the things I’m really proud of is how we’re working as a council with the trust and support of the community; and I think we’ve been able to return that trust with good decision-making.”