By Gavin Evans
March 15 (BusinessDesk) – Backers of an innovation and enterprise park proposed near Kaikohe will receive $890,000 from the Provincial Growth Fund to test the feasibility of the concept.
Te Tai Tokerau MP and deputy leader of the Labour Party Kelvin Davis, says the project has the potential to make better use of the region’s natural resources.
“This will be an actively managed hub that will bring together complementary activities such as manufacturing, construction, innovation, and research and development. It will support training and pathways to employment for locals.”
The project is being promoted by Far North District Council. Its commercial arm, Far North Holdings, was cleared to buy the 165-hectare site from local network company Top Energy last year.
The land, currently used for dairy farming, lies east of Kaikohe and over the northern part of the Ngawha geothermal field. A 2016 proposal to develop a $300 million pulp mill at the site ended when feasibility studies questioned its long-term wood supply and changes to transmission pricing changed the outlook for power costs.
The latest proposal will test whether the site’s geothermal resource can be used to help develop higher-value product lines from existing businesses in the region, such as honey and horticulture.
While the region has an active honey industry, there is no local processing. Other early opportunities could include olive oil extraction, as well as oil extraction from Manuka and Kanuka for nutraceutical uses.
Joseph Stuart, general manager of business innovation and growth at regional promotion body Northland Inc., says any facilities developed would be available on an open-access basis, like those at NZ Food Innovation Network sites in Manukau and Waikato.
If the geothermal option is viable, it could potentially be used for heating glasshouses or powering cool stores. Cheaper electricity supplies are expected to be available from Top Energy’s Ngawha power station to the south.
Should the project’s viability be confirmed, the council and Northland Inc. will seek a private scheme change to create a special purpose precinct that could cater for the broad range of potential activities that could occur there. That could include everything from on-site residential training to biofuel manufacturing.
Other funding announced today included a $1.79 million investment in the redevelopment of the nearby Te Waiariki Ngawha geothermal springs.
Davis, also minister of tourism, said visitors to the springs increased to more than 40,000 in 2017, from 22,000 two years earlier, without any active marketing.
“This project has the potential to further build the Mid-North’s total visitor market and provide employment for up to 30 people, while delivering benefits to the local community through enhancing an important local landmark.”
An earlier feasibility study for the redevelopment was funded with $260,000 from the PGF.