A MODEST parcel of Maori land – thought by many to have little potential for development – could anchor the district’s aspirations for sustainable economic growth and revitalisation.

Work completed so far as part of the Whakatane Regeneration Programme has identified a fit-for-purpose boat harbour as an infrastructural priority if potential for the marine and tourism sectors to drive economic development in the district is to be unlocked.

Rangitaiki 28B No 22 – located between Keepa Road and the Whakatane Bridge – has been selected as the preferred site for the development of a fit-for-purpose boat harbour that will address the existing demand for additional berthage and offers vessels protection from the dynamic river environment.

The concept will form an integral part of an application to central government for co-investment that is soon to be submitted by project partners Whakatane District Council and Te Runanga o Ngati Awa.

Rangitaiki 28B No 22 Trust chairman Brian Simpson said, if successful, the project would transform the future of the trust and its ability to support its owners.

“Comparatively, ours is a small Maori land block but we have lots of owners, so generating enough productivity to facilitate meaningful returns can be extremely challenging.

“What we’ve identified here is an opportunity that will ultimately enable us to provide long-term and holistic benefits that will actually make a considerable impact on the wellbeing of the collective.

“It’s about far more than money and revenue for us,” said Mr Simpson. “We’re firmly focused on the opportunity for our humble trust to play a vital role in the Whakatane marine and tourism sector and what that might mean in terms of leveraging that position to spring-board our rangatahi into careers in those sectors.”

The upriver location would also eliminate the need for further wharf structures and development nearer the rivermouth.

According to Te Runanga o Ngati Awa chairman Dr Hohepa Mason, the relocation of existing wharf activity to the proposed new site would also have a positive effect on the mauri of the Whakatane River.

LANDOWNERS: Members of Ngati Hokopu at a meeting.

“As an iwi, the Whakatane River is our identity. If the river suffers, so do the people. The proposed new location will help to contain wharf activity to a very specific and suitable area, which we hope will eventually restore our ability to access and maintain a relationship with our river,” said Dr Mason.

Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne said the Rangitaiki 28B block was confirmed as the preferred site following a robust multi-criteria analysis process.

“A due diligence process has been undertaken on several boat harbour location options by project partners Whakatane District Council and Te Runanga o Ngati Awa, along with industry specialists and key stakeholders,” he said.

“This location has been identified as the preferred site for a number of reasons including cost, transport logistics, scalability, capacity, accessibility, its low environmental impact and the acknowledgement of the significance that the river holds for Ngati Awa.

“One focus of the Government’s funding model is enhancing and improving the potential for Maori land to provide a platform for sustainable economic development,” he said. “I believe this is the most exciting development opportunity we have had in decades, and there is the ability to deliver that platform with this project, along with massive benefits to the whole district.”