MP says we need rail

Gisborne Herald   Mon 5th Oct 2015

by Andrew Ashton

Fears have been expressed that a plan to create a $7.4 million wood processing “cluster” to boost economic development here could be stifled if the Gisborne-Napier railway line is not re-opened in the next five years.

Eastland Community Trust last month approved the investment to build a wood-processing cluster and a centre of excellence on the former Prime Sawmill site last month – but Napier MP Stuart Nash told the ‘Gisborne Herald’ a “total transport solution” including both rail and roads would be needed to ensure the plan lived up to its potential.

“I have advocated hard for the Napier-Gisborne rail ink to be restored. For me economic development of the East Coast is dependent upon first-class transport infrastructure, of that there is no doubt.”

“If we are to attract a world-scale wood-processing plant, then it’s an absolute given that it needs first-world infrastructure.”

“I’m dealing with a group who are working with the Gisborne economic development unit on a mill that is currently mothballed

but is about to be reopened. I was talking to one of the guys driving it and he said to me “you have to push harder for this to be

re-opened.”

Mr Nash said if a workable case could be put to KiwiRail, then the line could become a trial model for the rest of New Zealand.

While the economic impact of the loss of the line has “possibly been minimal” to date, it could become “significant” over the next three to five years.

“What we are going to have to do up and down the East Coast is in a pro-active way seek finance or partners to build these plants. The longer this is left, the more expensive it is going to be to get the whole thing up and running again. We have a window of opportunity that is still open to us but if we leave it for too long, that window is going to close.”

“I would hate to see that happen – I think it would be really bad thing for the East Coast.”

Mr Nash’s comments come just a week after Local Government New Zealand released its Mobilising the Regions study, which examined the impact of transport on regional economic development.

The report highlighted the mothballing of the Napier-Gisborne rail link as an example of how a transport investment decision might have effected economic prospects in the Gisborne region. While a Government economic potential study concluded the effect of closing the line would be small, LGNZ’s report said an independent consultant’s report found the line could be economically viable and identified “a range” of possible economic and social benefits to continuing the line.

“The closure of the Napier-Gisborne rail link provides a useful example of how the limitations of the investment decision-making process for rail might have effected regional impacts,” the report said.

It pointed out that in recent documents released from the 2015 budget on the future of KiwiRail, the Treasury recommended closure or downsizing of the rail network based on fiscal priorities and commercial viability.

“This recommendation further highlights the point made in this report, that the implications of transport linkages are not fully understood if they are based on commercial considerations alone.”

“Without a full economic analysis, the public good benefits of rail will not be taken into account.”

ECT believes the creation of a wood-processing cluster has the potential to create 120 jobs onsite, 300 jobs offsite and inject $6.7 million into the local economy within three years.