Rail, forest investments kick off Provincial Growth Fund

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones has announced the first tranche of investment in the regions. Photo: Getty Images.

The first projects of the Government’s much-touted $3 billion regional investment fund have been revealed, focused on trains, trees, and tourists.

Initial projects of the $1 billion annual fund will be targeted at Northland, Tairawhiti-East Coast, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu-Whanganui, and the West Coast, with $61.7 millon to be invested.

They are forecast to create more than 700 direct jobs and 80 indirect jobs.

As expected, rail and forestry projects feature prominently in the projects.

The Wairoa-Napier rail line will be reopened for logging trains, while the Whanganui line will be upgraded for mainline locomotives and feasibility studies for three further regional rail projects in Kawerau, Southland and New Plymouth will be completed. This will all cost $8.75m.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones said if the projects realised their full potential. it would equate to more than $344m of public and private investment.

“We are being bold and we are being ambitious because this government is committed to ending the years of neglect. Nearly half of us live outside our main cities. If this country is to do well, then our provinces must thrive.”

Tree planting underway

Jones’ one billion tree programme has also been officially launched.

The ten-year plan will begin with the opening of applications for the Afforestation Grants Scheme, which provides $1300 of funding per hectare for new forests up to $6.5m.

The Government was also finalising an agreement with Landcorp to plant one million trees this winter and another million next year, while also working to identify new areas for planting.

In other related investment, $200,000 would be provided to develop a business case for a proposed $20m wood processing centre of excellence, which would be built in Gisborne and create 167 jobs.

The aim of the centre is to add value to wood products and increase processors’ productivity.

Almost $500,000 would also go towards a pilot to test the validity of establishing a totara wood industry in the Far North.

Jones said planting would be lower in the initial years of the programme because of seedling and land constraints, but would ramp up quickly.

International visitors vital for regions

Tourism is also a major focus of the fund and several regions will benefit from new projects.

In Northland, $1m will be spent to refurbish and expand the Hihiaua Cultural Centre while $2.3m will be allocated to build a tourism hub in Kawakawa.

It will be designed to draw people into the centre of the town and also provide toilets, car parks, and a public library for people to use.

Gisborne will receive a large funding injection to its tourism offerings, including money for the creation of a “Chardonnay Express” steam train ride.

Other projects in the area include a guided overnight tour of Mount Hikurangi and money for a double-hulled waka.

On the West Coast, $1m will be provided to further develop two Great Rides - the West Coast Wilderness Trail and the Old Ghost Rd Trail.

Punakaiki, popular with tourists, will receive $100,000 to help the town develop a plan to future-proof it against increased demand from visitor growth.

Moving Auckland Port to be studied

Ports have not been forgotten in the announcement, with two to receive either direct funding or further investigation.

A feasibility study on moving Auckland Port’s operations to Northland was part of the coalition deal between New Zealand First and Labour, and will be considered as part of a wider transport and logistics strategy for Northland.

An independent working group will investigate a supply chain strategy for the Upper North, looking at logistics and freight alongside the long-term future of ports and priorities for investment in rail, roads, and supporting infrastructure.

A rail line to Marsden Point and Northport and upgrading the North Auckland line will also be investigated.

Further south, $6m will be provided to revitalise the Whanganui Port and upgrade the town’s rail line.

The Government will support work planned for the port by the Whanganui District Council, which plans to redevelop the facility to attract marine- and logistics-related industries.

Jones said the expansion of the port was expected to create 160 new jobs.

“During my visit to the region, I was impressed by the level of collaboration between local government, iwi, and businesses."