Hopes for the restoration of the Napier/Gisborne railway line and other regional investments have been fuelled following a visit by Minister of Forestry, Infrastructure and Regional Development Shane Jones to Hawke's Bay yesterday.
Invited by the Hawke's Bay Regional Council to join business, local government and iwi leaders in Napier in the morning, Mr Jones then headed to Wairoa by helicopter to meet and talk to Wairoa mayor Craig Little at an event attended by about 60 guests.
Mr Jones said he took the opportunity to share the coalition government's strategic policy of planting 100 million trees a year, with the goal of planting a billion over 10 years, and the $1 billion a year regional development fund.
He said he was impressed by what he heard about the Matariki regional economic development strategy for Hawke's Bay, involving councils, iwi and government agencies seeking to work together to increase jobs, household incomes and raise the region's economic performance.
"They are finding a way to work together - it's a clever, well-integrated plan."
Most of the focus yesterday was on forestry, he said.
"There's pretty horrible stacks of eroding land and diminished waterways.
"I do not think anyone really appreciated how much of a challenge that was going to be with climate change on the way."
The aim was to plant one million hectares of land in trees and if there were suitable tracts of land that ticked the environmental and climate change boxes, and could revitalise neglected areas then the East Coast and Hawke's Bay should not be slow in coming forward, he said.
Hawke's Bay had as much opportunity to get a slice of the regional development fund than any other province, he added.
"The architecture is still being worked up in relation to the fund but it's a bankable commitment in the sense that it's in the coalition agreement.
"I encouraged people offering ideas to work within the construct of their Matariki plan.
"There's battalions of bureaucrats waiting in Wellington to receive such proposals, and once cabinet has signed off the criteria policy and thought process for the fund we will get cracking and work on worthy projects throughout the provinces."
Hawke's Bay Regional Council chief executive James Palmer said Mr Jones recognised that the Matariki strategy was focused on social inclusion not just economic development for some parties.
"We are well aligned with where this Government is going and well positioned to take advantage of any opportunities."
A high priority for the regional council was soil erosion, and Mr Palmer said it was valuable to be able to fly the Minister over a wide range of country affected, and show some of the work being done, such as north of Lake Tutira where some experimental species trials were underway.
In Wairoa, Mr Little said Mr Jones was well received and forestry, including the need for jobs as well as planting, was discussed as well as housing affordability, tourism, and work on roads such as State Highway 2 and State Highway 38.
They also discussed the possibility of re-establishing the Napier to Gisborne railway.
"I explained that they talk about the $4 million that needs to be spent repairing the gap that slipped away, but if we got a couple of farmers in there they could probably fix it for $200,000," Mr Little said.
"They are very keen on looking at this - it could well get up and running again."
Asked by Mr Little to look at innovative ways to assist the regional council to restore that rail, Mr Jones said taxpayers owned the roads and railway track and that there was no reason why the two could not be worked on in an integrated way.
"I gave a commitment to the mayor I would look into that and the commitment of the associate Minister of Transport who knows what might happen."