17 Oct 2022

Provincial Growth Fund: More than 140 projects awarded funding have had to pull out

1:27 pm on 17 October 2022
A close-up of Mr van Brandenburg’s design for a cultural centre on Dunedin’s waterfront.

The plan to redevelop Dunedin's waterfront was unveiled by local architect Damien van Brandenburg in 2017 and included a proposal for a cultural centre (as modelled). Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

More than $240 million in Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) money has been reallocated from projects that never got off the ground.

Despite government loans and grants ringfenced to kickstart the projects, some could not comply with contracts or criteria, others ran out of time or market conditions changed - so successful applicants had to cancel plans or put them on hold.

The $3 billion fund spearheaded by New Zealand First was established in 2018.

Documents released under the Official Information Act show to September this year, 143 projects awarded a total of $242 million in funding have had to pull out, before they got off the ground.

The Dunedin waterfront development let go of the largest allocation - a $19.9m loan to upgrade a wharf.

New Dunedin mayor Jules Radich told RNZ the plans then "floundered".

"To get it all together in such a short period of time, was just impossible."

Dunedin Mayor Elect Jules Radich

New Dunedin mayor Jules Radich Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

He did not see the project being revived under the new council.

"I don't think anything's going to be done anytime soon. It's just too much money in the too-hard basket."

Other major projects that had to cancel their PGF contracts were the second stage of Te Pū o te Wheke development of Kaikohe's town centre, allocated $19.8m, the Port Tarakohe redevelopment in Tasman, allocated $19m, and the apple company Rocket Global's $17.5m backing to expand operations at Irongate.

The Ruatapu Garnet mining project had a $10m loan approved, and the government said the mine would create "up to 50 permanent, high-paying jobs".

Ian Robb helped lead the plans, with Barton International, near Hokitika.

Then market conditions changed and the money was not withdrawn.

"Not having a port on the West Coast, and moving across to either Lyttleton or Timaru, they couldn't land it on the wharf for the price that they could buy garnet in other parts of the world," he said.

Robb still hoped the garnet would be eventually mined.

"I was really, really sad about it not happening. It was a very good project, because they don't have to dig that deep, it's all in the sand."

Other successful applications that later withdrew from the fund also included food processing factories, marae, steel fabricators, transport hubs, aquaculture businesses, tourism infrastructure, and tree plantings.

Research commissioned by government, published in June, showed at times, applicants to the PGF had been frustrated by delays accessing money and inadequate communication and advice.

Sometimes applicants were too rushed to properly scope and cost their projects.

No caption

The Port Tarakohe redevelopment in Tasman was among the projects that cancelled their PGF contract. Photo: Supplied / Tasman District Council

However, economist Hillmare Schulze told RNZ overall, any investment in regional infrastructure was a good idea.

"We have for the last I don't know how many decades, consistently under-invested in infrastructure. So this is actually just us trying to catch up."

She and colleagues at Business and Economic Research Limited have studied the impacts in Tairāwhiti, closely.

About three jobs were created for every $1m in funding, and "just over 80 percent of PGF investments was actually additional, so it means they would not have happened if there weren't any PGF investments", Schulze said.

The PGF has been fully allocated to more than 1350 projects.

Just over half of them are complete, and $2.12 billion has been paid out so far, creating 15,600 jobs.

Regional Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash's office said any money returned to the fund through underspends, repayments or cancelled contracts was reallocated to projects with overspends, operational costs, or the related Regional Strategic Partnership Fund.

National Party spokesperson for Agriculture David Bennett campaigning with leader Judith Collins in Gisborne on 24 September, 2020.

National Party regional development spokesperson David Bennett Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

But National Party regional development spokesperson David Bennett said the PGF had been a "rushed political process".

"What you see at the moment is exposing just how fragile some of those bids have been, because of the nature of how it was set up," he said.

"There have been a lot of projects that have been very vital to communities that have come out of it, don't get me wrong. There have been some great things that have happened as a result of it. But at the same time, it was a political venture."

West Coast-Tasman MP and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, Minister of Forestry Shane Jones and Archdeacon Harvey Whakaruru at the planting beside the Waimea Estuary.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, then minister of forestry Shane Jones and Archdeacon Harvey Whakaruru at a planting initiative in 2019 for the One Billion Trees programme, which still needs to return $6089 to the PGF. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said all of the money it allocated to projects that later withdrew, had been returned.

But that was not the case for the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), which is still awaiting the return of $6089 in One Billion Trees funding.

MPI said: "Withdrawals are requested for a variety of reasons, including property sales, planting failures, costs/affordability, and entering the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)".

The ministry said the price of New Zealand units under the scheme had gone up this year, and the ministry had seen a "spike in applicants swapping to the ETS" instead of taking One Billion Trees funding.

The Department of Conservation and the Ministry of Transport, which also administer funds from the PGF, had not had any successful applicants withdraw from projects.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs