With a hand-out of more than $17 million Northland is a big winner in the country's much anticipated billion-dollar giveaway.
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced yesterday how he had sliced up the $3 billion (over three years) Provincial Growth Fund (PGF).
After years of neglect, Northland will get a decent share of a $61.7m package to help get forestry initiatives, tourism and roading projects off the ground in five provinces, Mr Jones said.
A $17.35m direct development package aimed at uncorking Northland's tourism and transport potential comes from that larger amount.
Mr Jones has hinted further money and development will come in on the back of yesterday's announcement.
''This is just the beginning for Northland with further announcements expected in the coming weeks,'' he said.
The dedicated $17.1m will feed a $9m upgrade of the highway intersection at Waipapa, $1m for the Hihiaua Maori cultural centre, $450,000 towards a two-year pilot scoping a tōtara wood industry, $2.3m for a tourism hub in Kawakawa and up to $4.6m for a cultural tourism venture in Opononi.
Northland had higher than average unemployment so a huge focus was to create sustainable jobs and get more young people into education, training and employment in the region, Mr Jones said.
''Northland has enormous untapped potential and – after years of neglect – I'm looking forward to seeing what the PGF can do in partnership with the region to transform this beautiful part of the country.''
The future of upper North Island ports, including whether Ports of Auckland should be relocated to Northport, would be considered as part of a wider transport and logistics strategy, Mr Jones said.
A Marsden Point rail link is high on the list of considerations.
''We are committed to investigating a rail line to Marsden Point and Northport and upgrading the North Auckland Line to take pressure off the roads in Northland.''
Northport Ltd has welcomed the promise of investment in Northland roading and infrastructure projects, including into the viability of rail.
The strong link between eco-cultural tourism and benefits for the whole region has been recognised in $1m to turn the Hihiaua Cultural Centre from a large shed into a contemporary, multi-purpose Maori experience.
The money will allow ''stage one'', refurbishing the existing boat and carving shed and constructing a waka launching gantry, trust chairman Richard Drake said.
"This is fantastic news for Whangarei and the whole region because now we can realise a long held dream to have an authentic, iconic centre showcasing Maori cultural excellence in Whangarei," he said.
"This will now start to bring to reality the vision that kaumatua expressed over 30 years ago."
Whangarei mayor Sheryl Mai said she was delighted about the major investment in Northland and the signal it gave of the Government's confidence in the region's potential economic contribution.
"I am particularly pleased with the focus on the visitor, cultural and primary sectors. I am thrilled for the team that has held the vision for the Hihiaua Cultural Centre," Ms Mai said.
Karleen Everitt, chairwoman of Northland Inc, described the PGF as a win for Northland, saying the organisation had led and collaborated on several of the recipient projects.
Harry Burkhardt, chairman of the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan, said the advisory group is excited the funding will accelerate several projects in the plan, one of which is the tōtara study.
Another in the plan is Manea Footprints of Kupe, a new cultural tourism experience in Opononi, announced by Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis.
The Manea Footprints of Kupe Cultural Heritage and Education Centre will celebrate Kupe's voyage to Hokianga, preserve 1000 years of Māori history, and showcase local culture and places of historical significance.
"It will create up to 14 full-time jobs and will provide additional tourism opportunities for Northland's West Coast," Mr Davis said.