Regional Development Minister Shane Jones says up to $180 million of his new $3 billion fund will end up being spent on his plan to plant one billion trees over the next 10 years and it could see some Landcorp farms converted to forestry.
He said after the Budget in May the new Forestry Service, to be located in Rotorua, would be established.
That would have its own budget line and up to $180m would go into trees.
He warned it could take some time for the tree planting programme to ramp up. About half the trees would be planted by commercial forestry operators as part of their usual business.
The other half would be a mix of Crown planting, community organisations and the Department of Conservation planting native trees.
Mr Jones plans to use Landcorp land for forestry and would not rule out some Landcorp land converting from dairy or other activities for the tree planting.
He said that was up to the Landcorp Board, but he believed there were too many eggs in one basket.
“And I think that Landcorp is not only a farming enterprise, it’s a land use enterprise.
As we roll our climate change … I think Landcorp has every capacity to play its role as New Zealand’s best farmer. If that involves forestry, it gets a big fat tick from me.”
About $61.7m worth of projects were announced at the launch of the Provincial Growth Fund, from tourism to re-opening rail for logging from Napier to Wairoa.
National leader Bill English released a statement saying “is that it, Mr Jones?”
English said it was little more than a rebrand of the former National Government’s Regional Growth Programme and the regions would be disappointed after all the “hoopla.”
He said the only criteria for success seemed to be whether Mr Jones could spend the money by 2020 and reviews of the effectiveness of that spending would not happen until after 2020.
Mr Jones admitted some of the projects were already underway under the last Government but a second tranche of announcements would come through in April.
He put the bureaucrats on notice not to bog the fund applications down in process, saying he would have to take
advice from agencies such as the Land Transport Authority.
“I serve notice on all of those people today, the pace has to pick up and it has to change or we’ll lose the confidence of civic leaders in the provinces.”
Mr Jones told the mayors at the event that they should be prepared to come to him with projects that were viable.
He said the fund was a “big risk” because of its size.
“I’m absolutely confident we are not going to end up backing duds, but the leadership has to come from the community in the regions as well.
“I’m not going to shy away from the fact that a $3b fund over 2.5 years carries a risk. But I’m up for it.
“For me as a politician, there’s no
upside unless you’re willing to be bold and take a punt. The quality of the advocacy from the regions, the analysis from my advisory board will enable us to manage the risk.”
Ms Ardern said she was happy with the balance struck between ensuring robust decisions were made but also acting quickly.
Smaller projects would be dealt with by officials and larger ones of more than $20m must be approved by Cabinet.
Mr Jones told the mayors to get organised so there were projects ready for the Fund.
The mayors in attendance were happy with the funding but clearly hoped for more.
Far North Mayor John Carter said it was the type of boost the regions needed.
He said it would address economic development as well as social problems. He had put in other projects for funding and was confident they would come through.
“There’s nothing new in it, it’s just we’re getting support to do it now. I’m certain there will be more on its way.”
Asked if it was better than National had offered, Mr Carter said it was a different approach.
“National did things their way, this is a
new start for us and we will get on and take this opportunity as a district and as a region.”
Mr Jones has ruled out funding the redevelopment of State highway 1 for four-lanes up to Whangarei from his fund, but Mr Carter said there were other
avenues. Work was also needed on moving the ports to North Port.
“We are working like hell on those sorts of things as we speak.”
The fund will help pay for a transport and logistics strategy in the upper north
island, including looking at the future of the Ports of Auckland and other alternatives to it.
NZ First has secured an agreement to look at Northport as an option.
Winston Peters said such a strategy could not be done with a provincial bias’ but later said
the new port would need a deep channel that did not need dredging and flat land.
“And where’s that place?” He said it would also be good for the Navy.
Mr Peters said it was the first ‘achange’ government since 1984. NZME