Government plan for Northland targets transport, web, Maori assets

The plan, which is short on financial details, has four broad objectives.

The government has released a 10-year plan to attract investors and lift economic growth in Northland, a region that perennially underperforms the rest of the country even while being endowed with natural beauty, productive land, minerals, a potential workforce, scope for manufacturing, forestry and aquaculture, and proximity to Auckland.

The Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan (PDF here) follows a study of the region in early 2015 which evaluated Northland's economic opportunities and the "roadblocks to realising growth in investment, jobs and incomes." The plan has involved central government working with local businesses, iwi/Māori and councils.

The plan, which is short on financial details, has four broad objectives – to improve transport, digital infrastructure and work skills; to get more productive use out of land and water resources; to ramp up tourism infrastructure; and to nurture innovative and specialised manufacturing and services.

The cost of individual projects was difficult to quantify and dependent on the commercial procurement process, businesses cases and firm funding, according to a Q&A released by Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy. The economic value to Northland also can't be easily quantified, although the plan could attract investors, create jobs and training and boost incomes, they said.

Northland accounts for just 2.5% of New Zealand's gross domestic product and annual economic growth has averaged 2.6% in the past five years, well below the national average of 4.1%. More than a fifth of Northland's residents live in areas that have the highest deprivation score, twice the national rate, as is the ratio of young people not in education, employment or training. More people are on benefits and the labour force participation rate is lower than the rest of New Zealand, yet employers complain they can't find skilled workers, the plan says.

"There is a lot of work to do if we are to truly realise the potential of this resource-laden region of New Zealand," Joyce said in a statement. The plan "will build confidence among potential investors, from which more jobs and higher incomes will flow."

Only two specific new projects have attracted government support so far. The government would contribute $4 million to the construction of the Hundertwasser Art Centre and Wairau Māori Art Gallery in Whangarei, seen as a tourism drawcard that could bring in $3.7 million a year to the Northland economy. And the government is backing an initiative with Northland College to plant up to 100 hectares with high-performing mānuka cultivars for honey production.

The region is politically significant because the leader of the New Zealand First party, Winston Peters, won the seat in a by-election last year following the resignation of National MP Mike Sabin, who faces court action on undisclosed matters. If he holds the electorate seat, Mr Peters is able to guarantee representation in Parliament in proportion to the party's national support level, even if it does not gain 5% support required under the MMP proportional representation voting system to ensure seats.

BusinessDesk

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