Matamata-Piako sets pace for Provincial Growth Fund

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Mayor Jan Barnes says the council’s close involvement with local business gave it a strong understanding of infrastructure and community needs.

Matamata-Piako is first cab off the rank as the Waikato region eyes its slice of the Provincial Growth Fund, with further announcements likely early next year.

The District Council will now work through the procurement process to appoint consultants, after being awarded $1.7 million for feasibility studies into a Te Aroha tourism precinct and a Waharoa industrial hub.

Whoever the council engages could be reporting back on the Te Aroha bid as soon as May.

“The community has lots of ideas and I know whoever gets the contract will certainly flesh all that out, put it together in a package and hopefully it’s going to be very appealing,” said Mayor Jan Barnes.

“We’re first out of the blocks so we’re setting the framework.”

The Te Aroha study was given $900,000 and the Waharoa study $800,000 in an announcement by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a trip to her home base in October.

Mayor Barnes said the council’s close involvement with local business gave it a strong understanding of infrastructure and community needs. It had already been getting inquiries for infrastructure at Waharoa, so when the fund opened up, she and chief executive Don McLeod could see the projects fitted perfectly.

The Te Aroha domain was part of that. “We feel there’s a wellness and wellbeing market, we’ve got cycle trails, beautiful walks, wetlands and tracks up the mountain. We feel everything fits with growing this boutique spa market,” she said.

The funding announcement came on the back of enthusiastic lobbying by Mayor Barnes.

She is on the Local Government NZ board and met Regional Development Minister Shane Jones in Wellington.

“I asked Minister Jones if he would come and see what we are doing in our district at the very beginning of this process, and he said, ‘Jan I’ll give you half a day’.”

When he arrived in Te Aroha during a visit to the district in August, she says she jumped in the ministerial car and talked tourism all the way to Waharoa where she had key players waiting, along with “a lovely platter of Croatian Mediterranean foods”. 

“He said, you’ve hit the mark, you’ve got it. But then MBIE pulled him back and said, ‘well hang on minister, we’ve got a bit of paperwork to do’.”  

Economic development has been a council focus in 2018, and it employed Rachael Singh in the newly created role of events and promotions co-ordinator.  

“She has been working closely with [regional development agency]Te Waka and Hamilton & Waikato Tourism, who were both instrumental in helping to develop the Te Aroha PGF application.”

The Te Aroha development is listed as a priority project on Te Waka’s recently announced regional economic development programme. 

“Because it features in the priorities for the region, we’ll certainly put some weight behind it where we can,” said Te Waka chief executive Michael Bassett-Foss. 

Meanwhile, the Waharoa development has been supported by local businesses Balle Brothers, Inghams, Open Country Dairy and Wallace Corp with each pledging $25,000 in principle towards the industry hub.

Mayor Barnes isn’t ruling out looking to government to help fund the capital works projects going forward.

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