A four-letter word is glaringly absent from the Northland Economic Action Plan launched with great fanfare in Kerikeri earlier this month, according to Green MP David Clendon.
The missing word, which the Northland-based MP described as a major oversight, is 'rail'.
The plan, which was commissioned by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment and the Ministry for Primary Industries, details 58 actions to lift Northland's underperforming economy. It was launched by a bevy of Government ministers to an audience of more than 200 business, iwi and local government leaders at Marsden Estate on February 4.
Mr Clendon said the plan talked about coastal shipping, roading and the potential of NorthPort but completely ignored rail, which was arguably the best transport for commodity items such as logs. The omission suggested the Government saw no future in rail or in a link to NorthPort, the most obvious gap in the network.
"There's no question rail has been neglected and the infrastructure is weak, but we still have the corridor. To pretend it isn't there is unacceptable."
Northland also needed a reliable, fit-for-purpose road network that worked for most of the 365 days of the year.
"Instead we get relentless investment in super highways that aren't even addressing weaknesses in Northland's roading network, and rail doesn't even get its head above the parapet," Mr Clendon said.
The plan deserved credit, however, for bringing together central and local government, iwi, business, community groups and development agency Northland Inc.
The plan included a $4 million injection for Whangarei's Hundertwasser Centre but Mr Clendon feared many other projects would come to nothing without a financial commitment from the Government.
Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said the Action Plan focused on initiatives that could be taken in the short to medium term.
It focused on freight transport by road because it was more time effective, taking two hours between Whangarei and Auckland compared to five hours by rail.
Mr Joyce said rail was considered a longer term option. Its viability depended on greatly increased freight demands and the effect of the new container terminal at Northport.
Meanwhile, former mayor Wayne Brown said he had to abandon plans to transport a dozen containers of export milk a day to Auckland by rail because refrigerated containers were too big to fit through tunnels on the Northland line.
Mr Brown, who is planning a $40 million dairy factory near Kerikeri, originally hoped to truck the China-bound UHT milk to Moerewa, where it could be transferred to rail. Enlarging the tunnels would be expensive but investing in low-bed wagons, which could fit through the tunnels with a container, was not.
"I would have thought that was more deserving of infrastructure spend than $4 million on an art gallery in Whangarei," he said.
Northland MP Winston Peters, on the other hand, welcomed the commitment to the Hundertwasser Centre but said it should have been the full $6 million required to get the project off the ground.
His beef with the plan was that it made no mention of changing fiscal policy to help Northland producers, who struggled with an exchange rate "bouncing around all over the place" between 90 and 66 cents to the US dollar.
He had also searched the plan in vain for taxpayer funding to expand Northland's cellphone network or bring ultra-fast broadband to neglected areas. Nor was there any mention of seven of the 10 bridges promised in the 2015 byelection, he said.