The expansion of Napier's National Aquarium of New Zealand in one of the highest-priced proposals ever mooted by local government in Hawke's Bay has been given a kick-start with Government backing for preparation of a detailed business case.

It comes in the form of $350,000 from the Provincial Growth Fund, announced by Parliamentary under-secretary for regional economic growth development Fletcher Tabuteau during a visit to the aquarium on Napier's Marine Parade.

The council, which has an "indicative cost" of $51.3 million for the completed project, has also dedicated $350,000 to the study, although Mayor Bill Dalton said it had not been a condition of accessing the PGF funding. "It's just what we're doing," he said.

The council is proposing a $10.2 million investment with the remaining cost being sought from a mix of public and private investment.

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While it's still progressing through consultation phases, with a hope of starting building in 2020 and opening of the expanded attraction in 2023, the council is already working with other partners including Weta Workshop, Air New Zealand, University of Waikato, Hawke's Bay Regional Council and local iwi Ngati Kahungunu.

Dalton said in a statement: "Central Government shares our view that this facility has real potential as a tourism destination, a marine science and research hub, and a catalyst for real behavioural change."

He said the council wants everyone who visits the aquarium to "come away with new knowledge — inspired to take care of their precious marine environment, committed to more sustainable practices, and ready and willing to share what they've learned within their community".

He told Hawke's Bay Today: "I see this as a real game-changer."

It's the latest announcement of PGF support for Hawke's Bay. The $5.5 million committed to the region to date is dominated by the $5 million towards reopening the Napier-Wairoa railway to cope with the wall of timber from forestry in northern Hawke's Bay and further north.

But other projects throughout the region are also understood to be under consideration.

The aquarium is regarded as possibly the oldest in New Zealand, with roots back to 1956 when local enthusiasts began an operation in the basement areas of the Napier War Memorial Centre.

The aquarium was established on its current site in 1976, and $8 million was spent on an expansion project which saw it being named the National Aquarium of New Zealand in 2002.