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Gisborne in the mix for $45m wood plant

If efforts to get a $45 million wood processing plant built in Gisborne come off the region could end up at the heart of helping fix the nation’s housing shortage.

Auckland-based company NZ Future Forest Products, which specialises in producing engineered timber such as cross-laminated and glued-laminated timber, is at the forefront of the environmentally sustainable construction sector.

It is looking at bringing a state-of-the-art plant to Gisborne.

Eastland Community Trust chief executive Gavin Murphy confirmed the trust made contact with NZFFP after it heard the company was searching for a location.

The plant would cost $45m to build but Mr Murphy said the benefit to the local economy could be two to three times that.

“That’s pretty significant. From our perspective, we will be working with them to understand what the job outcomes are and make sure those job outcomes are for our locals.

“We reached out to them but I think they had gone through an internal process to focus on Tairawhiti and a couple of places in New Zealand.

“Between our work in wood processing and our wider wood-processing aspirations, and their coming the other way — looking nationally and focusing on regions — we would probably have collectively arrived at the same place within a few weeks of each other.

ECT commercial general manager Richard Searle said Tairawhiti was NZFFP’s preferred location.

A feasibility study was near completion and a build decision was expected in June next year.

Mr Searle said if Gisborne was chosen it was hoped it would also lead to more vocational pathways for people here, particularly with robotic technology.

“Those skills aren’t widely available in New Zealand so to some extent you have to home-grow them.”

The plant will produce engineered timber that can be used in modular housing, which will target the social housing sector, along with retirement villages and academic institutions for accommodation.

“So there are may be some opportunities we can unlock, particularly around the social housing space regionally.

Early days, but ‘cautiously optimistic“It will be a national and South-east Asian offering but there may be an opportunity to support local housing needs.”

Modular and cross-laminated timber technology was developed in conjunction with the University of Cambridge in the UK and the University of Canterbury in New Zealand as a more cost efficient alternative to steel and concrete, as well as reducing the building industry’s carbon footprint.

Mr Murphy pointed out that with ECT’s involvement with the Prime Wood Cluster Centre of Excellence (comprising Far East Saw Mill and WET Gisborne Ltd) and the region’s forestry estate, the region already had industry-related infrastructure in place.

“That means the region can more quickly coordinate stuff, and I’d like to think that’s part of the reason they have identified Tairawhiti . . . they have seen the heat and noise we are making around wood processing.”

Progress made through the region’s involvement with the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund and the private sector showed Gisborne was “open for business” when it came to wood processing globally, he said.

“It’s a hell of a story if we can pull it off. It’s early days but we are cautiously optimistic.

“Our job is to create that opportunity and environment and then make sure it’s done in a context of what the region wants to get out of it . . . the right environmental outcomes, jobs for our locals, pathways for our kids and hopefully allowing more value to flow back up through the forestry sector and right throughout that supply chain.”

Logs at the Prime Wood Cluster Centre of Excellence being taken for debarking at the Far East Sawmill before being used to produce dry wood at the mill and an engineered lumber operation there. They could soon be going to a second engineered timber plant as well. Gisborne Herald file picture by Liam Clayton