Opening up low value conservation land key on West Coast

By Laura Mills -
Steven Joyce noted the West Coast had been affected by global economic headwinds. Photo / Warren Buckland
Steven Joyce noted the West Coast had been affected by global economic headwinds. Photo / Warren Buckland

Opening up low value conservation land, streamlining permits and consents, and pushing tourism are keys to transforming a West Coast economy hit by more than 1000 mining job losses, Government ministers said today.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy were at the Arahura marae to release a detailed report which outlines significant potential to attract new investment.

The Tai Poutini West Coast regional growth study proposes a raft of ideas, including allowing more windthrow logging and creating a sustainable whitebait fishery.

The report says in the past economic projects have been hindered by a lack of clarity around roles and processes.

The investment approach and priorities of Development West Coast need to be clarified and aligned with the action plan, the report says.

"After a strong economic run, the West Coast has been affected by global economic headwinds that have dropped international prices for minerals and milk powders and undermined key sectors of its economy in recent years," Joyce said.

Tourism was one area where the Coast was thriving, mainly driven by international visitor spending in Westland, providing a major immediate opportunity.

Guy said key industries like dairy were likely to remain the mainstay of the rural economy, but the region could build on a range of niche sectors.

"There are several horticulture and food and beverage entrepreneurs exporting products like meat products, cranberries, blueberries, honey and vegetables.

Aquaculture is another primary industry that could be developed should feasibility of salmon farming in the region be established," Guy said. The fishing industry could be expanded and a sustainable whitebait fishery developed.

Windthrow logging recently had created up to 50 jobs. However, the report noted if more logging was allowed there would be objections.

The next step would be for DoC and the Ministry for Primary Industries to assess the benefits and costs, then if it stacked up, take advice to ministers on proposed legislative changes.

There was the potential to expand international education services in outdoor recreation and environmental management - demand for leadership courses in these areas currently exceeded supply.

It also said Te Runanga o Makaawhio was working on a new project to develop cultural tourism based on pounamu.

The report's six priorities for the region were tourism, reviewing ad hoc economic development, reviewing the investment approach of Development WC, establishing a one-stop-shop for permitting and consents, accelerating the roll-out of ultra fast broadband, and identifying areas of stewardship land with low conservation value.

West Coast Regional Council chairman Andrew Robb said now the study had been completed, work would start on the West Coast regional action plan. The governance group, made up of representatives of central government, the regional council, two West Coast runanga, businesses and local agencies, would work together over the coming months to develop the plan.

"The plan for the West Coast will build confidence among potential investors and ensure that we take steps towards building a brighter future for us all."

Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell said local iwi were involved in a number of social and regional development projects around the region and were important investors, with significant landholdings and interests in forestry, minerals, tourism, fishing, property, food and beverage, health, telecommunications and natural resources.

"The opportunity for the region is in forming sustainable partnerships and making the most of the commercial nous of Maori, encouraging further investment."

Key ideas:

• Tourism - improve marketing and infrastructure, with a focus on Franz Josef
• Good road and telecommunications networks
• Minerals sector - improve access to low value conservation land
•EPIC Westport - shows the Coast can attract ICT enterprise
• Logging - windthrow logging has worked, allow extraction to continue
• Food and horticulture - expand this - already includes honey, moss, cranberries
• Develop a sustainable whitebait fishery - restore, develop and protect more spawning sites
• Grow international education sector - focus on the outdoors and ecotourism

Policy enhancements:

• Identify low value stewardship land on the conservation estate that could be used more productively
• Allow for user charges to access experiences on conservation land
• Develop a 'single window' to deal with permitting, land access and resource consent applications

Three proposals that need robust assessment:

• A waste-to-energy facility in Buller
• Haast-Hollyford road link
• The Wangapeka link

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