Far North ratepayers will invest $5 million in an industrial park near Kaikohe in what is being described as a ''once in a lifetime opportunity'' to boost employment in the Mid North.
Councillors voted unanimously yesterday to borrow $5m which council-owned company Far North Holdings (FNH) will use to buy a dairy farm at Ngawha and turn it into a ''market ready'' industrial park.
The idea is to lure industry with completed infrastructure and resource consents, but the real drawcard will be cheap power from the nearby Ngawha geothermal power station.
FNH chief executive Andy Nock told councillors that Top Energy could supply power to the park, on a dairy farm on the northern side of State Highway 12, at a discount of 30-40 per cent and with no line charges. There was also potential to supply heat and CO2, for example for hydroponic horticulture.
Mr Nock said he could not guarantee the scheme would attract new businesses to Kaikohe, ''but the stars are aligned like never before''.
Factors in the park's favour right now included a Government that was looking for opportunities to increase employment in Northland via its Provincial Growth Fund. The industrial park was one of the few projects on the table with potential for significant numbers of jobs.
A similar scheme had worked at the Taupo geothermal field so there was no reason it couldn't work in Northland, which had the advantage of being closer to Auckland.
Mr Nock said FNH would keep the farm running to pay the interest on the loan so there would be no extra cost to ratepayers. If there were no takers in three years' time the farm could be re-sold, allowing the council to recoup its money.
Mayor John Carter said the park offered a chance to rejuvenate the Mid North while Deputy Tania McInnes pointed out Regional Development Minister Shane Jones had said, while announcing a spend-up at Kerikeri airport earlier this month, that Kaikohe was also in need of investment.
Kaikohe-based councillor John Vujcich said the park was ''a once in a lifetime opportunity'' which could act as a catalyst for change. Councillor Dave Hookway, however, sounded a note of caution about offers which had to seized immediately because they wouldn't came around again.
After the vote Mr Nock said it was great to have unanimous support. The park would help broaden Northland's tourism-dependent economy into industry and possibly hydroponics.
Over the next 8-12 months FNH would work through resource consent applications or a district plan change, apply to the Provincial Growth Fund for site infrastructure funding, and start approaching local and international firms. A highway plan and site survey were already complete.
The main drawback of the site was the cost of getting goods to major markets so that had to be more than offset by advantages such as cheap power and land. That was helped by the way things were going with property prices in Auckland, he said.
''There's no guarantee of success but we're committed to giving it our best shot.''
A total of 174 submissions were received when the council consulted on the proposal. Of those, 140 were in support, six had reservations and 28 were opposed.
A staff report said risks included securing an adequate water supply to the site, getting infrastructure built on time, whether the market would respond favourably and whether government funding would be forthcoming.
The extra $5m will boost the council's investment in FNH to date to $18m. The original sum sought, $6m, was reduced after an independent valuation of the farm.