A $36 million Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) announcement to revitalise Whakatāne has been described as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the town.
Minister Shane Jones made his second visit to the Eastern Bay on Friday in as many weeks to tell the Whakatāne community applications made by Te Rāhui Lands Trust, Ngāti Awa Group Holdings Limited, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa and Whakatāne District Council to the PGF had been successful.
The money would be used for the development of a new boat harbour, the revitalisation of the town centre and riverfront and the transformation of the Whakatāne Army Hall.
On February 25, Jones announced a $19.9m PGF investment for Kawerau and on February 28 Ōpōtiki's harbour redevelopment project was awarded $79.4m from the fund.
In his speech at the Extreme Boats headquarters on Thornton Rd, Jones said he would have liked to have made the announcement earlier but was aware there needed to be sensitivity following December's Whakaari eruption.
"Obviously we were all shocked, as your fellow Kiwis [and let me be a proxy for them today] when the explosion took place at Whakaari," Jones said.
"And we are all conscious it was a mighty blow, both in the sense of safety and it certainly brought your community together in this part of New Zealand.
"We were toying with when to hold this event and we were sensitive to the fact tangata whenua and a number of identities from the community wanted to have something that showed we were not disrespecting the sadness and severity of what took place.
"However, the community has to consolidate and move forward."
Jones went on to commit $19.6m to the boat harbour development, $9.6m to the Riverfront Revitalisation project and $7.6m to the transformation of the Whakatāne Army Hall into a destination for local, national and international visitors.
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Whakatāne Mayor Judy Turner said she wanted to make it very clear, the funding was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to completely transform the town and waterfront areas.
"Today's announcement will enable the realisation of a joint aspiration for us to be good ancestors to our future people," Turner said.
"Our marine and tourism sectors are the showcase industries that will lead to more jobs, more training opportunities and more prosperity for our communities and our district.
"This funding is the boost that will take Whakatāne on an exciting journey toward becoming a world-class, small-town destination and a great place for locals to work, invest and play."
Turner said the boat harbour project was to be built on Te Rāhui Lands Trust land, in partnership with Te Rāhui Lands Trust, The Crown, Ngāti Awa Group Holdings Limited and Whakatāne District Council.
Te Rāhui Lands Trust chairman Brian Simpson said the trust would play a lead role in the boat harbour development.
"This is a historical moment for us as we undertake this work in partnership to realise our collective goals," Simpson said.
"For us, it's about taking a balanced approach. As kaitiaki we will ensure that the mauri of our whenua and the river will be enhanced by the project while also creating a development that will provide a sustainable solution for the marine sector. The project will deliver intergenerational outcomes for our owners, hapū and the wider Whakatāne community."
Speaking in regard to the PGF funding recently announced for Whakatāne, Kawerau and Ōpōtiki, Jones said he hoped that when people reflected on the PGF in years to come, they would not say the Eastern Bay was overlooked by the Government at the time.
Benefits from boat harbour and riverfront revitalisation projects by numbers:
• More than 450 jobs by 2030 (direct and indirect).
• More than 930 new jobs by 2050 (direct and indirect).
• More than $80m local GDP growth per annum.
• Opportunity to attract $100m private investment in CBD.
• $111m additional GDP contribution by 2050.