Funding boost for Punakaiki, cycle trails

The first allocation from the $1 billion regional development fund was announced today, including a $1.45 million funding boost for Punakaiki and the two West Coast cycle trails.

By comparison, Northland got $17 million today and $9.2 million went to Gisborne and Hawke's Bay. In total the Government has allocated $60 million so far.

However, there was a hint of more to come for the Coast.

There were no surprises with today's announcement. All those projects are already under way and some are under the previous government's economic action plan. Two are tourism-related.

The announcement had been eagerly awaited after the Labour-led Government announced it was creating a $1 billion annual fund for regional development.

"Today, we're announcing a $1 million investment towards further development of two 'great rides' - the West Coast Wilderness Trail and the Old Ghost Rd trail," Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones said.

A further $100,000 was put towards a master plan to "future-proof" Punakaiki township.

"We are also providing $350,000 to assist in understanding the opportunity of a waste-to-energy plant in the Buller district," Mr Jones said.

Historically, the West Coast had relied on primary industries and natural resources. However, it was now a tourism hot spot with growing visitor numbers.

"The West Coast has unfortunately experienced negative population growth in recent years and the region is constrained by infrastructure that is not fit-for-purpose.

"However, numerous other proposals exist for the West Coast and the Government will work with various groups to identify how the provincial growth fund can help enhance its economic opportunities, create jobs and lift the overall productivity potential of the region," Mr Jones said.

West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor said the money to help further investigate a waste-to-energy plant at Westport was important as the project could help guarantee the rail line and be a boost to infrastructure, including power supply.

"The West Coast has enormous untapped potential. While tourism numbers are increasing, infrastructure is declining after years of neglect and today's announcement is a step in the right direction towards bringing more jobs and pride into our backyard," Mr O'Connor said.

"Nearly half of us live outside our main cities. If this country is to do well, then our provinces must thrive.

"I also welcome Mr Jones' commitment to further consider how the PGF (provincial growth fund) can enhance economic opportunities on the West Coast in the future."

Projects already started under the National-led government announcement in July 2017:

• $1.8 million to future-proof Punakaiki.

• The growth study for the previous economic action plan looked at the Westport waste-to-energy proposal. Early estimates put the cost at $415 million. It was taken no further when the action plan came out because the initial report cautioned: "A key risk we see for the project is whether sufficient quantities of waste can actually be sourced from other locations. In addition, the owners of Waste Energy Ltd do not have direct experience in establishing these types of facilities, although they have partnered with companies that do have this experience."

- By Laura Mills

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