What can be done for Northland?
As a politician from Northland I am always thinking about how I can help make our region more prosperous so we can all enjoy higher incomes and living standards.
Led by Winston Peters, NZ First identified the very poor transport links that our region has with the rest of the country, and internationally, as a major barrier to us achieving these goals. Whether it is by road, rail or air, access to good transport is an issue faced by all Northland residents and businesses. And I have been very vocal since becoming a Minister on these shortcomings. I also recognise it’s not just in Northland, but all our regions outside the main cities.
Ten days ago I released an initial report from a group that we supported through the Provincial Growth Fund to look at freight transport in the Upper North Island, and how the existing airports, rail links and roads contribute to or hinder economic development. Former Far North Mayor Wayne Brown, who chaired the group, and his colleagues have done a very good job in pointing out how the current freight system disadvantages Northland.
Our port has no link to the main Northland rail line, which has not been modernised to provide for the transport of modern containers. Instead it has been starved of investment by successive governments, who have refused to provide KiwiRail with the resources to invest in modern facilities.
If we look at other regions, such as the Bay of Plenty, and particularly Tauranga, we can see how the combination of ports, rail and road links can help regions achieve their productive potential. The good road and rail links from the wider Bay of Plenty and the Waikato have made the Port of Tauranga the largest in the country, supporting these regions in developing their forestry, horticulture and dairy industries. Tauranga and its surrounding region have seen explosive growth over many decades as a result.
Winston Peters and I believe that the rail link to Northland and the connection to Northport at Marsden Point can make similar contributions to the prosperity of Whanga¯rei and the wider Northland region.
Wayne Brown’s group will now start working on more detailed analyses of the options for the development of transport links in the Upper North Island. I expect their recommendations will have major implications for the development of Northport, including links from the port to the rail line. Another report due out within weeks will look at what needs to be done to upgrade the main Northland rail line, how much it will cost, and what benefits we can expect from that investment.
This concentrated effort by the government on issues associated with transport in Northland is the result of the advocacy of the deputy Prime Minister and me, as Minister for Regional Economic Development. It reflects our determination to ensure that the prosperity enjoyed by other regions as a result of their rail and port facilities is also enjoyed by the people and businesses of Northland.
"If we look at other regions, such as the Bay of Plenty, and particularly Tauranga, we can see how the combination of ports, rail and road links can help regions achieve their productive potential."