Last night I got to wear three hats. The first was as a board member of Enterprise North Canterbury, the second was as chair of the Waipara District Residents Association, while the third was as a landowner and resident of the Waipara Valley.

I was attending an Alpine Pacific Triangle update meeting. At the meeting the long expected announcement was made that Accor Hotels have signed an agreement to manage the Waipara Wine Village and Day Spa. For those of you unaware of the Waipara Valley, it is one of the fastest growing wine areas in the country and Latitude Group, taking confidence in this growth has launched the aforementioned project.

Bear in mind that the project will see the Waipara Village (population currently 200 people, 80 vineyards and 800 hectares of planted grapes) gain what Latitude group descirbes as;

…[a development which] will include a four-and-a-half-star quality hotel complex, offering a total of 132 rooms in 40 hotel suites and 40 villas. The village will also feature full conference facilities, food and wine appreciation courses, a restaurant and wine bar, an international alehouse, a luxury day spa, and interactive wine-tasting facilities. The day spa will feature vinotherapy, a series of treatments fashionable overseas, using grape and vine-based products for health and beauty treatments.

As I see it, my role in all of this. bearing in mind I am involved in organisations that both support the interests of the local community, and also further economic development, is to act as a conduit between the developers and the community. All too often in situations like this the community has the perception that it is being ridden roughshod over, while the developers have the perception that the community is at best disinterested and at worst negative about the project. A case in point is the currentsituation regarding resource consents for the development. As spokesperson for the residents I need to ensure their interests are protected, while at the same time doing everything to facilitate the development occurring. In this case we are lucky that the developer is anticipating a long term play and as such is willing to listen and respond to local feeling.

I for one think the project is huge, and have often stated that I see it creating the “tipping point” for our community, which can, if managed well, take us to the level of a Barossa, a Napa or better.

Ken Wimsett and Clint Greaves of Latitiude group are doing a text book job of not coming across as swarmy Auckland developers but pushing the “we’re part of this community” line. A canny strategy to achieve a higher level of buy in from the locals. It’s also a strategy that other businesses, wanting to develop in rural locations, should emulate.

Anyway – congratulations Latitude Group, Accor and the greater Waipara area – I look forward to raising a glass of Pinot at the opening early in 2009.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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