The zoned industrial land on which the Whakatu Inland Port will be built on has fired debate about whether fertile land should be used for development or agriculture.
The $20 million project will be built on a 12ha portion of a Napier Port-owned apple orchard between T&G Global and Whakatū Cold Stores on Anderson Rd will be removed.
Opposing political candidates and the chairman of the Hawke's Bay Regional Council all agree on one thing - the land while fertile has already been zoned industrial, but going forward fertile land should not go under concrete.
The debate was sparked following comments made by the Save Our Plains group who vehemently opposed the Whakatu Inland Port being built on "prime fertile land", following an article published in Hawke's Bay Today.
Group spokesman Richard Gaddum said covering the "best soils in the world" with industrial development was "economic madness".
"The plan to put an inland port at Whakatu on prime fertile land on the Heretaunga Plains is ludicrous," he said.
"This land has been designated industrial in the 2017 Heretaunga Plains Urban Development Strategy (HPUDS) so all three councils (HDC, NCC and HBRC) feel justified to expand this area for more industrial development but it is not the right approach.
"There is other unproductive land which would be better suited for such an industrial initiative."
Former Hastings District Council mayor and current National Tukituki MP Lawrence Yule said the inland port concept at Whakatu had been considered for more than 15 years, including in the recent alignment on the upgrade decisions around the Whakatu Arterial Route.
"There are three main drivers for it being considered at Whakatu. It has been zoned industrial or deferred industrial for a long time," he said.
"It is connected to the rail network for ease of access to the port and the south. This will assist getting trucks off the road.
"There is significant spare waste water pipe capacity because that capacity has been unused since the closure of Whakatu and Tomoana meatworks."
The inland port would be a big economic driver for the region, he said.
"The land in question is very productive and is the last of the productive land to be converted to industrial in Whakatu. All other new industrial land is on poorer land at Omahu and Irongate Rd.
He said he supported the Save Our Plains initiative but the biggest risk, he believed, was from residential housing expansion on the plains.
Labour's Tukituki candidate Anna Lorck agreed with Yule regarding the fertile soil of the land, and that in the future development should be focused on unproductive land.
"This land is zoned industrial and the location provides consolidation and connectivity for greater efficiency with the existing critical infrastructure links to road and rail," Lorck said.
"It is an enabler for the Hawke's Bay economy growing jobs and building on the strengths of our diverse primary sector industries for the benefit of our region.
"The location actually means it can be serviced by the existing arterial links - so it won't require any further infrastructure to be built, protecting further development on productive land."
She said the port had long-term plan for growth and the Government was backing the region to help lead New Zealand forward as a prosperous and productive region.
"However, when it comes to stopping the further encroachment of urban and industrial sprawl onto our fertile Heretaunga Plains land I absolutely support this, and the responsibility sits firmly with the local council."
Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Rex Graham praised the inland port project and supported the stemming of fertile land usage for industrial development, in the future.
"The current port is constrained, the inland port will bring new efficiencies and the way we move our goods to the world. With our growing economy it will help take a lot of trucks off the road in Napier," Graham said.
"It will increase rail-use, but rail is less intrusive."
The Whakatu Inland Port land is "very good" land, but it is already zoned industrial, he said.
"It is not good that we are using fertile land but it was zoned a long time ago.
"I am a big supporter of the concept of the inland port. It's port-owned, and the mistake of it being zoned industrial was made a long time ago.
"Going forward we need to say enough is enough. I have very strong sympathies for the views of the Save Our Plains lobby. We can't keep doing this to fertile land."