A $500 million-plus upgrade of rail to Auckland, a $150m-plus rail spur to Marsden Pt, and the possibility of moving Ports of Auckland work to Northport - new Forestry, Regional Economic Development, and Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones has promised major economic development for Northland.

As well, Waitangi Treaty Grounds will get a massive overhaul, including building a "legacy" museum to honour the Maori Battalion's exploits during World War I and World War II.

Mr Jones, the NZ First list MP who stood in Whangarei, was officially sworn into his new roles with his parliamentary colleagues yesterday and he promised the provinces would be presented with huge economic development opportunities over the next three years, with Northland set to get a major boost.

He said as part of NZ First's coalition agreement with Labour the parties had agreed the rail line from Northland to Auckland would be upgraded at a cost of $500m-$600m. A spur line would also be built to Northport, at Marsden Pt, costing another $150m-$180m.


The coalition agreement also includes a $1 billion a year fund for regional development projects - including a "Billion Trees Planting Programme" to plant 1 million trees a year.

The $1b regional fund also includes a feasibility study on the options for moving the Ports of Auckland, and Mr Jones said it would look specifically at the option of moving some or all of Auckland's port freight to Northport.

He said, if it happened, it would be a major economic boon for Northland but the review would find out whether it was possible.

Mr Jones said Northland would also benefit from the Billion Trees Planting Programme.

"There is so much unproductive land in the North, particularly Maori land, that can be utilised to plant more forestry.

"The $1b fund will revitalise the regions and give them the opportunity to fund major projects that will be transformational for those communities. Already I've been approached by people in Northland who have ideas that can have a transformational impact in and around the North.

"Far North Holdings have a plan for a major tourism development in Kawakawa that will change that town, but they haven't been able to get the funding for it. They've got a similar idea in Opononi and other areas. They will be able to apply to the fund if their ideas stack up."

Mr Jones said proposals for funding would go before a panel of public sector and private sector experts for approval, but there was already one project that he had given the go ahead to.

"The first cab off the ranks is a new wharf for Opotiki, in the eastern Bay of Plenty, that plan's been around for 10 years but hasn't got the funding. We will make that happen and it will allow economic development and tourism opportunities there."

He said the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi will be further developed to provide a much better visitor experience and a "legacy" museum for the Maori Battalion built there.

"It will be based on the speech by Sir Apirana Ngata who spoke to troops in 1940, saying the participation in war was the 'price of citizenship' in New Zealand. That's still very relevant and that legacy museum will be built by 2020. The Maori Battalion got that message from Sir Apirana in 1940 and this, and other work planned for the Treaty ground, will be a major development for tourism there."

Mr Jones said NZ First is a party based in the provinces and by the end of this three-year term he wanted "the provinces, from Spirits Bay to Foveaux Strait to have benefited from that $1b fund for regional development. It will have a transformational effect to the provinces".