Dunedin gets its share

The lolly scramble has finally come to Dunedin.

Pickings had been lean for the city since the Government established the Provincial Growth Fund, its annual billion-dollar injection of money into the provinces, in February 2018.

Dunedin had been tossed only a few morsels - Southland, which earlier this year got a $19.5 million boost for its inner-city development plan, fared much better - but that all changed yesterday, when Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Economic Development Minister David Parker sailed through the city like benevolent philanthropists, tossing cheques out of their goodie bag.

In a rising tide of Christmas-style excitement, there was $63,000 for youngsters entering the forestry trade, $5.8 million for an agritech business unit (plus about $2 million on assorted other engineering and manufacturing projects), $10 million for CODE, the centre of digital excellence, $19.7 million for the revitalisation of the Hillside workshops, and - in the most eagerly awaited announcement of all - $19.9 million for the Dunedin waterfront redevelopment.

A good chunk of money, then, for a city that is humming along nicely but still needs a push in certain areas.

The idea of PGF funding is that it addresses critical infrastructure needs and initiatives that could get an economy pumping, making investment in the provinces more attractive for the private sector.

That is explicitly the case with the waterfront development, seen by some as the ticket to Dunedin truly capturing the wave of growth that has started to build in recent years. Government funding lays the foundations; private investment is the cream. That is the idea, anyway.

Some will see yesterday's announcement as bittersweet. While it is obviously pleasing to get nearly $20 million of public money for the first stage of the waterfront transformation, it is far below the rumoured $100 million the Dunedin City Council was seeking.

Should we quibble over the amount? Feel a bit short-changed? Possibly, but it's a good start, and there may be more available down the track. It doesn't lessen the need to attract private investment to revolutionise the waterfront.

On to Hillside, the much-loved railway workshop that harkens back to a day when Dunedin was a New Zealand manufacturing powerhouse.

In a huge boost to the workshop, KiwiRail will use this funding to upgrade the two main rail workshops and create new facilities, re-establishing it as a hub to service locomotives and wagons.

From 23 current staff to an expected 100 within a decade, Hillside will seek to recapture some of its former glory.

Allied with the Hillside news was the announcement of a bunch of smaller projects aimed at breathing some life into Otago's engineering and manufacturing sector. Overall, it is marvellous news for employees - existing and prospective - in those industries.

While manual labour got its share of the pie, so did the digital space.

Plans for the CODE initiative, first revealed by then-Labour leader Andrew Little in 2017, are a big deal for the bright minds in our creative digital industry.

Dunedin, New Zealand's first ''gigatown'', has a growing gaming and digital presence. Generations of bright minds are coming through our university and polytechnic lecture theatres ready to embrace new opportunities in a digital world, and this is another step towards allowing them to stay in this city.

On the scale of PGF projects so far, Dunedin's big day yesterday is in the middle of the pack. The fund has already confirmed $94 million for the Northland rail network, $40 million for economic development in Manawatu-Whanganui, and $34 million for Northland forestry.

But this was a day to be happy. Jobs, growth, exciting new projects - Dunedin will take the lot.


With a 'thank you'.


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