THE Murihiku Regeneration Project will be an important cog in the wheel which helps drive Southland’s economy forward in the next four years, according to regional leaders.
Under the project, which is being led by Waihopai Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu representative Michael Skerrett and Te Runaka o Awarua (Bluff) Upoko Sir Tipene O’Regan, iwi would work in partnership with the Crown to ensure all aspects of well-being were considered, past New Zealand’s Aluminum Smelter (NZAS) expected closure in 2024.
Mr Skerrett said the project was originally initiated over concerns of how the Tiwai Point site would be remediated once it closed, highlighting landfill, sea rise and erosion and the disposal of dross.
However, it would also look at employment, economic, health, environment and education, including the prospect of using electricity from the Manapouri hydro station for a hydrogen power station in Southland.
“It’s important to keep the power down here. It’s produced with Murihiku water.
“As Treaty (of Waitangi) partners, we can help by having the Crown involved.”
The aim of the project was to create a healthy, thriving Murihiku working alongside other groups and leaders within the community, he said.
Southland Mayoral Forum chairman Tracy Hicks said the Murihiku project was a “big picture” view for the future.
The project, along with the Southland Regional Development Strategy (Sords), which was completed in 2014 after the previous smelter closure threat, were positive steps for progress, Mr Hicks said.
However, further work would still need to be done to keep up the momentum.
The Sords report would now be “refreshed” to ensure priorities were still the same.
Businesses which had been highlighted, such as developing the aquaculture industry, would remain but the report also needed to include initiatives which had since come to light, including the proposed hydrogen plant.
“I would suggest, within probably a short number of months, we’ve got those priorities identified and shared with the community and will be working on them actively.”
It was important the province diversified to ensure it was not so reliant on one industry, he said.
“The Southland economy is a three-legged stool and three-legged stools are notoriously unstable.
“When the three legs are on the ground and functioning well everything is great, but when one of those legs is a little bit wobbly, then it’s not a good.”
Great South chief executive Graham Budd said there was a very strong collective focus on developing opportunity.
“That includes, ourselves, our councils, private enterprise, iwi and government as well.”
The key projects for Great South were the development of an oat milk plant, supporting aquaculture development and continuing to support the region in understanding carbon reduction and land use change and opportunity, as well as tourism.
Mr Skerrett said while the four-year Tiwai extension was needed, he did not want the smelter to remain open.
Contractors were invited to a meeting with NZAS representatives at the Ascot Park Hotel in Invercargill last Friday.
Several attendees declined to comment as they walked into the private meeting.
One contractor, who wished to remain anonymous, said workers were news about the Tiwai smelter reprieve.