Anderton announces funding for Hirini St forestry road

  • Jim Anderton

Speech to announce the funding of Hirini St bypass road to an evening meeting of Gisborne’s Mayor and members of the Eastland Wood Council, in Gisborne

Soon after I first became Minister for Economic Development in late 1999, it was obvious to me that the forestry and wood industries would have a central place in New Zealand's economic development.

The wood industry offered then - as it does now - the greatest potential of any industry for substantial returns. It was also the industry in greatest need of transformation, from exports of low value commodities to high-value, high skill, job rich products.

As the people here will know, around the same time I began grappling with these issues, I was also working with the Tairawhiti Development Taskforce.

I set it up in response to the economic performance of Tairawhiti. It was obviously an acute region, in considerable need of attention, yet fortunate in its rich natural resource base.

Back then, Tairawhiti's infrastructure was under-developed. Investors keen to establish processing facilities were looking elsewhere.

I felt if we couldn't make a difference to the Tairawhiti regional economy, there wouldn't be much hope of making a regional development impact in the wider New Zealand economy.

The openness of the industry to work closely with the new government enabled government to develop effective policy solutions.

The East Coast Forestry Industry Group came to the Taskforce and presented a picture of the economic potential of forestry to the region and to New Zealand.

This presentation by Gisborne locals such as Sheldon Drummond and Julian Kohn led to a taskforce focussed on addressing the impediments to development.

They included infrastructure, particularly roading and port development issues, labour and skills shortages and the Resource Management Act.

So the Wood Processing Strategy grew out of the Tairawhiti Development Taskforce.

I remember the first meeting of the WPS in January 2001, at Vogel House. The industry was used to being ignored.

It wasn't sure the government cared about the industry and taskforces had a reputation of being all talk and little action. I made it clear that the Wood Processing Strategy was about action. I made a commitment to engage closely with the industry and to develop effective solutions.

The focus was not so much on the industry itself, but on removing impediments to development. We were, in my view, successful. It was not an easy process, but it successfully identified a series of issues and moved on them.

We allocated around $30 million per year to roading (at a 100% subsidised rate) to the major forestry regions of Tairawhiti and Northland. Labour shortages and skills were an issue where we also made significant progress. We developed a centre of excellence in Rotorua for wood processing, as an investment in the future. The Resource Management Act was tackled.

The Wood Processing Task Force was intended to end in July 2002. Industry representatives sent a clear message they wanted it to continue and so it evolved into the Forestry Industry Development Agenda (FIDA).

There is a significant amount of work progressing at various levels, including: the Forest Industry Framework Agreement, market development, and investment projects. There is also participation in other areas of Government policy.

The major challenge now is neither the impediments placed in the way of development by the government, nor the relationship between government and the industry.

The major issue today is the vision for the industry of the major players within it. The government has been working closely with the industry since 2000.

I have personally invested a huge amount of time and energy and the government remains committed to the industry. The industry itself faces challenges that only it can resolve if it is to realise its vision by 2025.

As long as the industry is committed to development, the government will work alongside it - certainly while I'm Minister for Forestry.

On a local level, the industry people here tonight know that the Hirini St road is the lynchpin to all the forestry access routes into the port.

Here I want to acknowledge the Gisborne Herald, which has played a very responsible role as a provincial paper, in the way it has reported on this matter over time.

So I, along with my colleague Hon Annette King, Minister of Transport, am very happy to announce that Land Transport New Zealand, from the Regional Roading Fund created by the Labour-Progressive Government, has agreed to meeting $2.475 million towards the Hirini St port bypass road.