OBJECTIVELY SPEAKING: Whakatane District Council chief executive Steph O’Sullivan speaks to tourism industry stakeholders about the proposed regeneration scheme. Photo Mark Rieder D8771-01

IF approved the joint Ngati Awa-Whakatane District Council regeneration scheme could change the way people access Whakatane’s central business district and what they will experience.

Though still early in the development stage, the basic concept is to design a plan to guide CBD development into the future. The partners have until August to complete their proposal and submit it to the Provincial Growth Fund.

Council chief executive Steph O’Sullivan told a meeting of tourism industry stakeholders last week that with 60 percent of the fund’s $3 billion already spoken for, it was important to ensure they enter a strong proposal.

“We have made sure we are on the Provincial Growth Fund’s (PGF) radar and we need to continue to advocate to ensure our space is protected,” she said.

The participation of Ngati Awa is an important aspect of the proposal, reflecting the growing relationship between the two groups.

“Our partnership with Ngati Awa on this project is absolutely critical and the success will rest on their contribution,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

Mayor Tony Bonne said he was hopeful the council-Ngati Awa partnership would be “catalyst that will make this community go gangbusters ahead”.

The plan centres around upgrading the riverfront area to meet a growing need for a commercial harbour development.

“When this project was first floated, it was very much about replacing the wharf with the understanding it wasn’t going to hold up,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

“The project itself is designed to create a vibrant waterfront and town centre where visitors and locals alike would want to spend their time.”

With an increase in business in the district’s marine industry there is also the need for an improved harbour front.

“We have some gold star boatbuilders in Whakatane and they have associated industries like upholstering, painting and metalworking that employ a lot of people,” she said.

“There is a significant number of commercial and recreational fishing boats as well as boats for taking people out on tours. These boats reflect a serious investment and they’re not protected very well.”

With the need to house Opotiki’s mussel farm boats until their harbour is completed, Whakatane’s wharf is increasingly under pressure to provide more berths. Ms O’Sullivan said they were told by the PGF they could enter a more ambitious proposal.

“(They said) think bigger and bolder and off that came the notion that it will not just be a like for like wharf replacement but a boat harbour that can protect boats from flood and enable more berths,” she said.

“These aren’t new things but the PGF has allowed us to have a bigger vision around them and accelerate the speed with which we can achieve them.”

She said the plan would have to take future trends into account.

“Towns and CBDs are changing. What do we have to do to be ready for 2040?” she asked.

“We know that healthy CBDs are places where people work live and play. They don’t die out at 5 o’clock at night and don’t have dodgy behaviour between 10pm and 2am.”

The plan will look at how people in the future will access the CBD and how business owners can.

“They won’t be as car-centric in the future.

“This is really challenging for many small towns across New Zealand but it’s also a fantastic opportunity for us to think about what we want and to create that,” she said.