Retiring Northland Regional Council CEO, Malcolm Nicolson, 65, will officially retire at the end of this month, almost 11 years after he took up the council’s top job.
Back in 2012, the council’s 142 full-time equivalent staff were responsible for an organisation with a total annual operating revenue of $30 million.
In 2022, staff numbers have doubled to 284, but when vacant positions are counted the actual number is more than 300, responsible for an organisation with a total annual operating revenue of $73 million.
Mr Nicolson (pictured) says the organisation has grown as the Northland community has asked it to do more. He says over the past few years, public expectations have also grown and the community has effectively offered to fund a lot more work.
“Quite honestly I think we were all surprised that the community was prepared to fund far higher levels of environmental work than we thought,” he said.
“We are making a positive environmental impact by doing a lot more work in biosecurity and land management in terms of water quality and indigenous biodiversity off the back of the community support.”
Mr Nicolson says highlights of his time have included improved relationships with tangata whenua and communities at large, which he counts as one of the council’s major achievements.
“Another big achievement has been the lifting of communities’ resilience through flood schemes across the region and in Whangarei’s case, a large detention dam.”
If he has any regrets, it is the one area that the council has not been able to progress – the development of marine sanctuaries.
“We’ve been quite successful on land, but haven’t made enough progress on the marine front.”
“The national setting has not been conducive to creating marine sanctuaries…there hasn’t been the political will at a central government level to doing anything about it.
“Looking forward, Mr Nicolson expects “the whole economic environment is going to be quite tight” and says high inflation and interest rates will be a factor for the next several years.
“We’re on the back end of the business cycle, funding is going to be a lot harder going forward.”
In his immediate future, however, it will not be economic considerations, but his 152-hectare Kawakawa farm that takes up much of Mr Nicolson’s time.
With over 80% of the farm in bush and wetlands, “it’s not a farm in the common sense, it’s a piece of land that I’ve chosen to try to preserve”.
With the regular early morning commutes to NRC’s Whangarei head office and long hours about to come to an end, Mr Nicolson says he plans to do more work on the farm to fence off wetlands on its lower reaches – “there hasn’t been the time to do that”.
“I’ve also got 45 years of family history research that I want to write up for the kids.”