A long-mothballed plan to build breakwaters around Paihia — as well as redeveloping the waterfront and restoring an eroded beach — is set to go ahead after the government granted $8 million to the project.

Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones made the announcement at Zane Grey's Restaurant in Paihia this morning.

With tourism ''taking a dive'' due to border restrictions, the Bay of Islands needed backing to boost its economy and get people working.

''This construction project will put money in the pockets of local businesses and create up to 60 jobs. It will also set up the town and the wider region as a must-visit destination for domestic tourists as we wait for international tourism to return," Jones said.

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The funding will come from the $3 billion set aside for shovel-ready projects in the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund announced in Budget 2020.

The project, to be delivered by council-owned company Far North Holdings, would see what used to be Paihia's main beach restored after years of erosion and the construction of breakwaters to protect the wharf, waterfront road and shops from wild weather.

It is also expected to include shoreline reclamation, new tidal steps, dredging and a waterfront promenade for walking and cycling, a floating helipad, a marine education area, and a bus terminus.

The project has a long and controversial history.

Impression of the Paihia waterfront development, showing the re-nourished beach, groynes and expanded recreational area. Image / FNHL
Impression of the Paihia waterfront development, showing the re-nourished beach, groynes and expanded recreational area. Image / FNHL

When it was first made public in 2006 it had a $20m pricetag and included 620m of breakwater and a 4000sq m reclamation.

It was based on consultation which found restoring the almost vanished beach between the Bluff and the wharf was at the top of the public's wishlist.

It was Paihia's most popular beach in the 1950s and 60s but has disappeared in the past 50 years.

The most controversial element of the plan was the breakwaters, which were originally designed to be connected to Motu Maire and Kuia Rongouru islands.

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Iwi took the matter to the Environment Court, concerned that the breakwaters could encourage more people to kayak to Motu Maire, which is wahi tapu.

Those who objected included the late kuia and environmental campaigner Emma Gibbs-Smith.

The plans were altered and the consent was finally granted by the Minister of Conservation in 2010.

The redesigned breakwaters are shorter and don't connect with the islands, allowing more freedom of movement for marine life while still protecting the waterfront.

Impression of the Paihia waterfront development, showing the breakwaters, re-nourished beach, expanded recreational area and promenade. Image / FNHL
Impression of the Paihia waterfront development, showing the breakwaters, re-nourished beach, expanded recreational area and promenade. Image / FNHL

The project was, however, mothballed late in 2010 due to the impact of the global financial crisis. The sharp drop in property development in the Far North had a drastic effect on the council's income, which at that time relied heavily on development contributions.

The Far North District Council has earmarked an extra $5.3m to the current project to pay for the new recreational area and restoring the beach between the wharf and Nihonui Pt (The Bluff), if the plan is backed by Paihia residents.

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Far North Holdings general manager Chris Galbraith said the waterfront development project stemmed from conversations the company had many years ago with business and community leaders in Paihia.

They wanted to enhance and improve the Paihia visitor experience and to re-position the town to attract tourism in light of a more competitive period ahead.

If the beach was reinstated Far North Holdings would use 25,000m3 of dredge material from within the area enclosed by the breakwater.

That material had been eroded from the beach over past decades and washed seaward. It would be topped with 20,000m3 of fine sand from Pahi.

Depending on community input, some aspects of the original design may need to be changed, Galbraith said.

In that case Far North Holdings would consider the merits of seeking amendments to the consent and advise the community accordingly.

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Other aspects of the original consented design, including additional buildings and a southern wave attenuator with berths, would not go ahead at this stage.

The development is expected to take up to 18 months.

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