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09 June 21: Grants help boost economy, create jobs

Waikato Regional Council has approved its first grants from the regional development fund, with a combined total of $2.575 million going to two different projects.

Ariki Tahi/Sugarloaf Wharf Ltd (ATSWL) will receive $2 million, and Hamilton-Waikato Tourism on behalf of the Waikato Screens project will get $575,000 over a three year period.

Council Chair Russ Rimmington said the projects promised to deliver significant economic benefits to the region, including employment opportunities.

Councillors heard that growth of the marine farming sector in the Coromandel Peninsula is contingent on appropriate wharf infrastructure to bring product ashore. The funding agreement to be signed with ATSWL will include a number of conditions, including a requirement that all consents are first approved before the grant is paid, as well as the setting of performance expectations.

The expansion of Te Ariki Tahi/Sugarloaf Wharf will ensure the movement and processing of product through Thames-Coromandel and other districts. The activity is likely to grow ancillary service industries that are not in existence now or are currently at a very small scale, and often seasonal.

“Our council’s funding will contribute to marine farmers having more confidence to invest in growing their on-water operations, rather than on the expansion of the wharf.

“The potential to change lives, to boost the local and regional economy through this work, is the reason why this council has committed funds to it,” Cr Rimmington said.

Central government threw their support behind the project last year with nearly $20 million from the Provincial Growth Fund.

The project to upgrade the wharf at Te Kouma will unlock approximately $822 million of economic benefit over 35 years and is projected to support 880 jobs.

During the public excluded meeting at the end of March a number of concerns were raised by regional councillors, including around the increase in road usage and the dumping of dredged material.

Councillors were reassured that Thames-Coromandel District Council and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency were committed to a $2.2 million upgrade of the Te Kouma Road intersection over two years, which will improve traffic flow to and from the wharf. More work had also been done by the project team to look at dredging requirements, councillors heard.

In response to questions about engagement with iwi, the meeting was told that Ngāti Whanaunga had carried out a cultural impact assessment, and the iwi representatives were deeply involved in the project.

A funding and partnership agreement will now be signed with ATSWL, which is jointly owned by Thames-Coromandel District Council, Coromandel Marine Farmers Association, and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.

An agreement will also be signed with Hamilton-Waikato Tourism on behalf of Waikato Screens following decisions to award the grant in a public excluded meeting at the end of April.

The one-off grant of $575,000 will be distributed over three years to build capability as the Waikato’s regional film office. The goal is for the Waikato Screens project to actively promote the region as a place to film, as well as to work with the film industry scouting shoot locations.

Councillors felt the benefits of the investment would be shared right across the Waikato. Hamilton constituency councillor Angela Strange acknowledged the work Waikato Screens had done already to attract three films to the region over the past eight months.

“Imagine what more they could do with our support. I’m really excited by this proposal and can see that it will bring millions of dollars into the region, create jobs for locals as extras, and inspire young people,” Cr Strange said.

Taupō-Rotorua constituency councillor Kathy White also liked that “it’s benefiting a number of industries across the whole region. Hospitality in particular has been hit hard by COVID-19 and this would be a real boost in that area,” she said.

As with the Ariki Tahi Sugarloaf Wharf grant, there will be conditions prior to funding being released that Waikato Screens will need to meet, and further conditions following years one and two.

The grant for the Waikato Screens project is a capability grant, so the additional monitoring and partnership approach over three years offers all parties assurance that the project will be supported as it progresses.

About the regional development fund

The fund was set up through the council’s 2015-2025 Long Term Plan and it holds $5.5 million as of July 2020. The fund receives annual contributions from the council’s investment fund returns, following inflation proofing of the investment fund and rates subsidy.

The fund was established to support regionally significant projects which promote regional economic development, and are achieved in a way that also enhance environmental, social and cultural outcomes.

The fund’s policy will be reviewed following its first delivery of grants, this will give the council an opportunity to evaluate the processes used for the grants and seek feedback on improving the design and delivery of the Regional Development Fund.

More information on the fund is available at waikatoregion.govt.nz/regional-development-fund