With only two weeks until Christmas, the Eastern Bay has been showered with Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) gifts from a jolly Shane Jones.
Jones, the Regional Economic Minister, was in Ōpōtiki and Whakatāne today spreading regional cheer with the announcement of funding of several projects aimed at boosting economic potential and unlocking new opportunities for locals.
"We have a greeting in Māoridom that is haere mai, haere mai, haere mai," Jones told the Rotorua Daily Post. "Today that has been ho, ho, ho."
He said Whakatōhea Māori Trust Board members had called him Hana Koko all morning.
Jones said he had been spending a bit of time in the Eastern Bay as of late and, if the weather continued to treat him to such spectacular days as it did today, he'd be back.
"As part of the PGF, I have been fronting at regions that have been retarded through lack of attention from central Government for far too long. Coming from Awanui, I have an affinity for places like Ōpōtiki."
He said it had been exciting to announce $750,000 for the Ōpōtiki Harbour Development Project that would assist with the development of a business case to progress an affordable harbour and $935,000 for the Whakatōhea Māori Trust Board to prepare a business case to expands its mussel farm capabilities.
"On top of this up to $19,850,000 will be invested in the development of a sustainable mussel farming operation."
Jones said the $781,700 allocated to Raukokere Irrigation would transform hundreds of acres of valuable but redundant land into productivity.
"However, I have warned Māori landowners, that I am disinterested in any hapū disharmony. If I get this, I will walk away," he said.
"I will not involve myself or my Government in any internal Māori discord."
Ōpōtiki Mayor John Forbes described the morning's announcement as exciting.
"The funding is an indication the work we have been doing for years and years has merit," Forbes said.
"We've known for a long time of the potential in Ōpōtiki and the Minister's visit confirmed it.
"Up until now the Government has been assisting but today tells us they get it, and they support it."
Jones had a quick stop in Ohope for lunch before being welcomed at Kapu Te Rangi Historic Reserve in Whakatāne.
He then travelled to Mataatua Marae and was shown around key Whakatāne waterfront sites before announcing the Whakatāne Waterfront and Town Centre Re-generation project would receive $646,000 from the PGF for progressing its development plan.
Whakatāne Mayor Tony Bonne said the grant was great news for the district and the wider Eastern Bay of Plenty.
Bonne said regional growth studies had identified tourism and waterfront development as key economic drivers which would help unlock the Whakatāne District's potential.
"The Council has formed a joint governance group with Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Awa Group Holdings to oversee the development of wharf facilities and related waterfront development options," Bonne said.
Funding announced today
Mussel Farming and Production Facility - Development of a sustainable mussel farming operation in Ōpōtiki: Up to $19,850,000
Improving digital connectivity in Eastern Bay of Plenty - Improving EBOP's broadband and mobile networks. (This follows a previous announcement that the Provincial Growth Fund will invest in regional digital connectivity): $1,300,000
Accelerating Aquaculture Developments in Whakatōhea Rohe Moana - Research and planning exploring potential aquaculture projects: $935,000
Ōpōtiki Harbour Development Project - First stage in Ōpōtiki Harbour redevelopment: $750,000
Raukokore Irrigation - Investigating irrigation for up to 640ha of land at Raukokore: $781,700
Whakatāne Waterfront and Town Centre Regeneration - Progressing Whakatāne redevelopment plan: $646,000
White Island visitor growth - Feasibility study to investigate improving visitor access to White Island: $400,000
EBOP Regional Development Project Implementation - Funding a position to manage and report on 65 key economic development projects: $237,500
Kiwifruit Labour Co-ordinator - A fulltime position connecting workers, contractors and pack houses: $99,999
Ngāti Awa Resource Funding - Completion of preliminary planning work on four projects: