Prime Minister John Key has given the strongest signal yet the Government is considering pouring tens of millions of dollars into a plan to unlock aquaculture in the eastern Bay of Plenty.
Today Key opened the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council conference in Wellington, where he said there was a need to reform the Resource Management Act, in reference to the difficulty of consenting aquaculture space.
Asked by a member of the audience about what it would take to get the Government to invest money into a plan in Opotiki, Key said he was looking favourably at the plan.
Local iwi and the Opotiki District Council are lobbying to convince the Crown to inject millions of dollars into a plan to improve the port at Opotiki, which they claim is the bottleneck preventing pent-up demand for aquaculture investment.
"In principle, we like the proposal of Opotiki," Key said. He put the amount being asked for at $50 million, although Opotiki is seeking is a commitment to invest $25m.
"You've already got resource consent for your aquaculture space, so if we accept that there are challenges [consenting aquaculture space] as we work our way around the country, you've got a big bit of coastline [that] looks in principle to be a very good place to grow aquaculture," he said.
"The deprivation index there [around Opotiki] is really high, so if we could develop the aquaculture beds and we can develop the mussel processing plant and various things that go with it, you just do a bit of an economic trade-off between, OK, if the Government has put in a contribution, how much do we reduce welfare benefits for it locally?
"What does it mean for economic activity in the local area around Opotiki and Whakatane and the likes? And the answer is, it's really good. It's quite a good payback."
An economic analysis was being undertaken on the plan. Key said crucial to the Crown's potential to invest was an assurance that the money would lead to the activity locals promised.
The Government needed to be "absolutely sure" that a planned mussel processing plant would be built, and that it would work "because it's easy to say it will".
"[If] we put in these sort of bucks, we've gotta be sure that thing has a payback because every other region in the country will come to us and say ... tell me why you differentiated these guys and not someone else," Key said.
"The one really salient point is the deprivation there [in Opotiki], so in principle there ain't no perfectly straight forward formula [but]... we do sometimes put money into these things," Key said, adding that the Government would "almost certainly" put money in for a convention centre in Queenstown.
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