Shane Jones: How the Provincial Growth Fund is connecting our regions

Opinion 04/03/2020

By Shane Jones Minister for Regional Economic Development, New Zealand First List MP.

Nearly half of New Zealanders live outside the three big cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Despite a large population based in our provinces, connectivity to and from these regions with the rest of the country has been historically poor.

When New Zealand First launched the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) in 2018, it came with the goal of rejuvenating our regions. Part of that mission was to ensure our provincial towns and cities are accessible to freight transport and to much- needed tourism revenue.

There have been substantial amounts of funding poured onto roads and rail from the PGF to enhance regional connectivity, but equally important are our air links.

As curator of the fund, I have been critical of airline companies who axe regional flights as these leave adverse effects on those local economies.

But even more important than flights are the airports – after all, regional airports need to be fit-for-purpose so air services can fly into them. This infrastructure ensures freight can reach our regional towns and cities, tourists can easily visit, and also acts as a vital lifeline against the threat of natural disasters.

The PGF has been instrumental in ensuring regional air connectivity, with several investments made available to support our provincial airports.

An investment of $1.75 million from the PGF helped upgrade the Bay of Islands Airport, with a larger, more modern terminal officially opening its doors in 2019. The new terminal allowed the number of flights into Kerikeri to double or even triple.

Southland also received PGF funding to upgrade Invercargill Airport, which allowed the first direct jet connection between Auckland and Invercargill since 1995 – a real boost for tourism.

The expansion will ensure facilities can manage increased freight volumes and specialised loading, while the jet services from Auckland will increase the airport’s full-time equivalent jobs from nine to 16.

Gisborne’s airport also received $5.5 million for redevelopment in 2018, it was a strategic investment to capitalise on the East Coast city’s growing popularity to international and domestic tourists.

The PGF has also stepped up when the forces of nature take their toll on our infrastructure, an example was the $2 million investment to repair the damage of the seawall at Westport Airport.

Without that funding, the approximately 10,000 passengers per year that pass through the airport will lose their connection to the West Coast region. The accessibility of the airport is also a vital to regional resilience in the face of natural disasters.

As part of the $12 billion New Zealand Upgrade Programme announced last month, two more regional projects have been rolled-out. An injection of $3.1 million will provide Milford Aerodrome with much-needed upgrades, while Taupō Airport will be given funding to upgrade and redevelop its airport terminal.

NZ First set out to revitalise our regions upon assuming government, the work we have done to rehabilitate and even expand our provincial airports is a crucial aspect of that mission. Enhancing regional connectivity unlocks the growth potential of our provinces, ensuring they do not stay forgotten any more.

Shane Jones is Minister for Regional Economic Development and New Zealand First List MP.