A $4 million boost for Whangarei's Hundertwasser Centre and a manuka honey scheme at Northland College in Kaikohe were among the announcements at the launch of an economic plan in Kerikeri designed to get Northland's flagging economy moving.

The Government says the 58 actions detailed in its Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan will help transform Northland's economy, which continues to lag behind the rest of New Zealand on almost every measure.

Hundertwasser was the only project promised a direct cash infusion - provided its backers can raise the rest of the money required - though Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said about 19 projects would receive some form of government funding.

A proposal to build a pulp and timber mill at Ngawha costing an estimated $600 million, using surplus steam and heat from the geothermal power station, would have to be privately funded but the Government could help find investors through NZ Trade and Enterprise.


The plan was unveiled at Marsden Estate Winery by Mr Joyce, Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy. About 300 people, a who's who of Northland business and politics, attended the launch.

The Hundertwasser announcement was greeted with cheers and applause, not least from Whangarei Mayor Sheryl Mai and MP Shane Reti. It was also welcomed by Prosper Northland, the group behind the proposal, which has raised $10 million. Trust chairman Barry Trass said the project's target of $16.25m was well within reach.

Mr Joyce said the Hundertwasser Centre would provide Northland an iconic building and a "must-see tourist destination". It would benefit people across Northland because it would attract a new group of tourists to the region.

He denied the action plan was driven by the National Party's desire to regain Northland after losing the electorate to NZ First leader Winston Peters in last year's byelection. Work on the plan started before anyone knew a byelection would be necessary, he said.

Parts of the plan were under way with tenders going out earlier this week for the first section of four-laning from Puhoi to Warkworth - though former MP Dover Samuels questioned how a road in Auckland would benefit people in the Far North - and the Government was working on a new plan to four-lane State Highway 1 all the way to Whangarei.

Mr Joyce cautioned that would not happen overnight, however.

Mr Flavell said another key to improving Northland's economy was to free up the region's under-used, multiple-owned Maori land.

He was confident his Te Ture Whenua Bill reforming Maori land laws would be before Parliament by the end of March.

Ngati Kuri leader Harry Burkhardt said Northland was "a developing economy within a developed economy", where above all his people wanted jobs and the ability to support their whanau.

Transforming Northland's economy would be complicated and hard, but he was driven to play his part by "an abhorrence of how things are today".

After the launch the ministers travelled to Northland College in Kaikohe to hear about an initiative to plant school-owned land in manuka and train students for the manuka honey industry.