$5m boost for West Coast visitor economy

A $36.8m Action Plan will help boost the West Coast’s visitor economy with around $5m going towards tourism and tourism-related infrastructure initiatives.

The Tai Poutini West Coast Economic Development Action Plan was announced by the government in Hokitika yesterday and aims to support economic development, improve connectivity and infrastructure, and make it easier to invest and do business in the region.

“The government is committed to supporting the West Coast economy to grow and become more resilient. That’s why we’re partnering with the region through this Action Plan to invest up to $36.8m in areas like tourism, ICT and primary industries,” said the Minister for Economic Development Simon Bridges.

About $3.2m was going directly towards helping to grow the West Coast visitor economy, said Tourism Minister Paula Bennett.

“Growing the West Coast visitor economy is a priority of the action plan. The region has significant potential to increase the appeal of its natural and heritage assets, adventure-based attractions, and cycling and walking trails,” said Minister Bennett.

“The government wants to see our regions benefitting from tourism growth, but this funding is also about supporting the West Coast to respond to demand with quality facilities and infrastructure.”

Among the direct tourism funding announcements were $90,000 for the development of the Oparara Arches near Karamea as an iconic attraction, $850,000 for the extension of the Hokitika Gorge walking track and associated amenities, alongside safety improvements to the access road, and $1.8m to future proof Punakaiki visitor and heritage infrastructure.

Funding also included $225,000 to investigate future proofing Franz Josef infrastructure against flooding and earthquakes, $40,000 toward a feasibility study for the upgrade of Croesus Road near Blackball for access to the Pike 29 Trail, which is part of the Paparoa Track Great Walk, and $50,000 toward a feasibility study for a Kawatiri – Charleston to Westport- Coastal Walking and Cycling Trail.

Work to develop a Māori tourism strategy also received $70,000. Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell said the funding would support the preparation and implementation of the Tai Poutini Māori Tourism Strategy and Action Plan to guide iwi investment in the region.

The single largest funding was $15m for the replacement of one of the last single-lane bridges in the region, Ahaura Bridge on State Highway 7 between Greymouth and Springs Junction.

Other initiatives included an $11m Regional Research Institute which would “use innovative research and manufacturing techniques to unlock the potential of New Zealand’s minerals resources”, and $1m to fund a Digital Economy Action Plan.

Not all of the announcements were welcomed with Forest & Bird among those critical of the new mining research institute.

“We congratulate the West Coast for coming up with a comprehensive regional development plan, and there’s certainly some good ideas in there,” said Forest & Bird’s Canterbury West Coast Regional Manager, Jen Miller.

“However, we’re alarmed to see the plan contains a ‘fast track’ process for mining, ongoing logging access to conservation forests, and plans to dispose of some conservation land. These proposals are a continuation of this government’s short-sighted focus on resource extraction, and bending the rules for favoured industries,” said Miller.

Labour’s West Coast-Tasman MP, Damien O’Connor, said the lack of any real alternative vision for the West Coast’s economy was disappointing.

“The establishment of a Mining Research Unit will be welcomed by the industry but it comes a little late to transition our region beyond dependence on a sector that has left us battered,” said O’Connor.

“Some of the big industries that operate here such as dairying, fishing and engineering are virtually excluded from the Government’s consideration.”

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