Council consultant to scope science research

The Marlborough District Council is scoping ideas for a new regional research institute after Economic Minister Steven ...
CAROLYN VEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

The Marlborough District Council is scoping ideas for a new regional research institute after Economic Minister Steven Joyce, pictured, announced a $25 million Government package.

The Marlborough District Council is to pay a consultant $20,000 to scope out an idea for a research institute in Marlborough.

But councillors have questioned what exactly the consultant would be researching, calling the plans vague.

Developing a proposal would cost the council $100,000 in total.

In the 2015 budget, ministers Steven Joyce and Nathan Guy announced $25 million over three years to support new privately-led regional research institutes.

The Government wants institutes to focus on scientific research relevant to a region, with an emphasis on research into new technologies, new firms, products and services.

Funding will roll out from 2016/17 to support the best proposals.

Council corporate finance manager Martin Fletcher said in a report to council one concept was expanding the Wine Regional Research Institute with greater focus on winemaking and traceability.

A proposal would need to engage the industry, Plant and Food Research, universities and Hills Laboratories, Fletcher said.

Another concept was to broaden the food and beverage cluster.

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If Marlborough was successful it could attract $5m in Government investment, Fletcher said.

"The Government has signalled that Marlborough is the type of region they would expect to develop a proposal in relation to the regional strengths of food and beverage," Fletcher said.

"The Marlborough Research Centre and its food and beverage innovation cluster is a clear entity and concept which would ideally bring together industry and Government funding to develop a regional institute proposal together for consideration."

The research centre had registered its interest and a meeting with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment would take place on September 29.

Previous Government research institute programmes, which established the Aviation Heritage Centre and the Wine Research Centre, had significant economic benefits, Fletcher said.

Regional planning and development chairman Councillor Trevor Hook said it was very early stages.

"It is an attempt by Government to build regional capability around science. How it will look is up in the air."

Developing a proposal would require a $100,000 investment.

A similar amount was used to develop the Wine Research Centre and the Aviation Heritage Centre, Hook said.

Councillor David Oddie said the plan was "vague at best" with no indication what would be researched.

But he supported the concept of registering interest.

Councillor Peter Jerram said the proposal was a shock.

"We had a long productive Long Term Plan discussion about money put into economic development. We had an extensive report on the Edge [a single economic agency] which we ditched. That was $40,000 ditched. The report itself, another $10,000 to $15,000 gone."

Private companies such as the Marlborough Research Centre should be partnering with council to pay for the scoping exercise, he said.

"The Marlborough Research Centre aren't broke, they have quite large reserves. Would it not be reasonable for them to spend a dollar for dollar deal with council to make an application."

Councillor Terry Sloan said the council was talking budgets with no firm idea what to research.

"We have seen how these projects grow and demand financially. I worry what we are leading ourselves into."

Sloan amended the motion to cut the cost of the initial scoping exercise to $20,000.

Fletcher said the ministry had to determine the criteria first and then council could respond.

Council had to register its interest by October and develop a business case by February.

 - Stuff

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