Matamata-Piako's district council application for funding for a new spa complex in Te Aroha has been rejected after Provincial Growth Fund funding was allocated before the project could be presented to ministers.
The council were formally notified recently that the PGF application for $16 million to transform the Domain into a Tourism Precinct will not be progressed. The application was not turned down but due to a high number of applications, the funds were allocated before it could be presented to the ministers.
Mayor Ash Tanner said while he understood the demands on the fund, especially with the focus towards shovel ready projects to help communities recover from Covid-19, the announcement was disappointing as the project showed great potential from the very beginning.
"Our team and consultants put in a great deal of effort. We have been through the feasibility study, progressed to the business case. We were given full confidence from the consultants that this project was feasible," Tanner said.
Back in 2018, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited the district to publicly announce funding of up to $810,000 for a feasibility study and business case for the Domain.
In her speech, the Prime Minister said "the initial work on the project could unlock huge potential in the area and capitalize on strong forecast growth in the Waikato region".
"Even then at that early stage, we felt confident," said Tanner.
"We still are and that's why we will aim to progress this project without the PGF. We are now looking at Plan B, how that looks is still to be evaluated."
Without funding, the project will move at a slower pace, but Tanner said with the ground work completed in the form of the feasibility study and business case, council could make some head way into the real grunt work.
"Why wouldn't we progress it at this stage? We know the project is feasible and will attract a domestic market, rather than relying on overseas tourists.
"It won't happen tomorrow, or a year from now, but I certainly hope to be cutting a ribbon to the new tourist precinct before the end of my first term. That might be ambitious – but I would like to think that one way or another, this will happen and it will be a great asset for the Waikato region.
"Te Aroha needs and deserves this – with the Hauraki Rail Trail, unique stores, art work and eateries and the amazing maunga on our doorstep, a tourism precinct would take the town, district and region to the next level."
The Te Aroha Tourism Precinct project was one of two PGF applications the council applied for to the tune of $1.7m.
Along with the Te Aroha Tourism Precinct, the council also applied for $800,000 for a feasibility study and business case into Waharoa as an industrial and food processing hub.
The project was supported by local businesses Balle Brothers, Inghams, Open Country Dairy and Wallace Corp whom each pledged $25,000, in principle, towards the project's development. The feasibility study and business case produced promising results. The project had the potential to turn Waharoa into an industrial and food processing hub, boost the local economy and create jobs.
One of the main projects mooted for Waharoa was a $21m natural gas pipeline from Okoroire, through Matamata to Waharoa to provide a source of processing heat for industry.
First Gas, the gas operator, put this forward as part of the government's 'shovel-ready project' programme after the Covid-19 lockdown but this application was unsuccessful.
Tanner said despite the decision, he didn't see the spent funds as a loss – the ground work was positive and it could be revisited at a later date.