The amount of taxpayer money "mulched" in an abortive pine planting project can now be revealed - a staggering $160,000 worth of seedlings were destroyed.

The figure reveals the cost of pine seedlings ordered for the One Billion Trees scheme this year but not used.

The NZ Herald revealed the Government's joint venture plan with the Ngati Hine Forestry Trust hit a glitch after ordering pine seedlings to plant 1100 hectares this year.

When the land was found to be choked with scrub, the number of hectares plunged and just 191,000 pine seedlings were planted out of the 1.2 million ordered.

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Forestry minister Shane Jones' office confirmed the cost to taxpayers.

"Of the seedlings left, half were distributed to other joint ventures and half were mulched," a spokeswoman said.

"The estimated cost of the unused seedlings is about $160,000."

For that money, the government could have funded 40 cataract operations or eight full hip replacement surgeries.

The documents which revealed the issues with planting also raised concern about forestry labour shortages.

Jones said he had spoken to industry about immigrant labour and was looking for greater assurances around "pastoral care" before allowing workers in from overseas.

But he would not rule it out. "There's an acute shortage of arms and legs to plant these things."

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Forestry Minister Shane Jones plant a tree to seal the $32m forestry deal. Photo / John Stone
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Forestry Minister Shane Jones plant a tree to seal the $32m forestry deal. Photo / John Stone

Forestry officials also confirmed foreign labour was among the range of possibilities being considered to meet labour shortfalls which existed in some parts of the country.

Opposition regional development spokesman Paul Goldsmith said the loss of $160,000 was the result of officials rushing to try and meet Jones' political need to show results.

"It's just the first example of the consequences of being totally driven by political timing rather than careful management of taxpayer dollars."

Goldsmith said the document received by the Herald through the Official Information Act showed officials and Jones' staff putting great weight on planning the ceremony which sealed the $32m forestry deal.

He said more work should have gone into checking the deal out before signing it.

The forestry deal provided the Ngati Hine Forestry Trust with a means by which to have land planted after efforts to sign up a commercial partner fell through. It is scheduled to return $63m to the Crown.

Land owned by the Ngati Hine Forestry Trust was too choked with scrub to be planted this year. Photo / David Fisher
Land owned by the Ngati Hine Forestry Trust was too choked with scrub to be planted this year. Photo / David Fisher

The trust had run short of money to replant the forest itself and land was being left bare, and not maintained, as an existing pine forest was harvested.

Not only does the deal secure planting for the trust, it includes planting of 495ha of manuka, a training package to provide local qualifications and skills and replanting after harvest.

Ngati Hine chairman Pita Tipene told NewstalkZB the land could be planted once it was cleared of gorse and scrub and the total amount to be planted would eventually be the same.

"Some of it has reverted into some scrub and anybody who has ever tried to plant a pine seedling finds it difficult to get in amongst the scrub that has grown. It certainly needed to be cleared and that's what we need to do.

"This year, we certainly got our figures a bit wrong. We overestimated ourselves how much we could plant."

He said the deal was a "fantastic" initiative which provided good return to the taxpayer while investing in provincial New Zealand.

He said there had been criticism of unproductive land in the provinces and current unemployment figures showed a lack of jobs in Northland.

"Here you have a government which is investing long term in communities in Northland. We see this as a long-term investment in our communities."