A modest parcel of Māori land – thought by many to have little potential for development – could now anchor the District’s aspirations for sustainable economic growth and revitalisation.

Work completed so far as part of the Whakatāne Regeneration Programme has identified a fit-for-purpose boat harbour as an infrastructural priority if potential for the marine and tourism sectors to drive economic development in the District is to be unlocked.

Rangitāiki 28B No 22 – located between Keepa Road and the Whakatāne Bridge – has been selected as the preferred site for the development of a fit-for-purpose boat harbour that will address the existing demand for additional berthage and offers vessels protection from the dynamic river environment. The concept will form an integral part of an application to Central Government for co-investment that is soon to be submitted by project partners Whakatāne District Council and Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa.

Chair of Rangitāiki 28B No 22 Trust, Brian Simpson says, if successful, the project will transform the future of the trust and its ability to support its owners.

“Comparatively, ours is a small Māori land block but we have lots of owners, so generating enough productivity to facilitate meaningful returns can be extremely challenging. What we’ve identified here is an opportunity that will ultimately enable us to provide long-term and holistic benefits that will actually make a considerable impact on the wellbeing of the collective.

“It’s about far more than money and revenue for us,” says Mr Simpson. “We’re firmly focussed on the opportunity for our humble trust to play a vital role  in the Whakatāne marine and tourism sector and what that might mean in terms of leveraging that position to spring-board our rangatahi into careers in those sectors.”

The upriver location would also eliminate the need for further wharf structures and development nearer the rivermouth. According to Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa Chairman Dr Hohepa Mason, the relocation of existing wharf activity to the proposed new site would also have a positive effect on the mauri of the Whakatāne River.

“As an iwi, the Whakatāne river is our identity. If the river suffers, so do the people.  The proposed new location will help to contain wharf activity to a very specific and suitable area, which we hope will eventually restore our ability to access and maintain a relationship with our river,” says Dr Mason.

Whakatāne District Mayor Tony Bonne says the Rangitāiki 28B block was confirmed as the preferred site following a robust multi-criteria analysis process. “A due diligence process has been undertaken on several boat harbour location options by project partners Whakatāne District Council and Te Runanga o Ngāti Awa, along with industry specialists and key stakeholders,” he says.

“This location has been identified as the preferred site for a number of reasons including cost, transport logistics, scalability, capacity, accessibility, its low environmental impact and the acknowledgement of the significance that the river holds for Ngāti Awa.

“One focus of the Government’s funding model is enhancing and improving the potential for Māori land to provide a platform for sustainable economic development,” he says. “I believe this is the most exciting development opportunity we have had in decades, and there is the ability to deliver that platform with this project, along with massive benefits to the whole District.”