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Little’s visit a boost for Labour’s East Coast campaign

Opinion Piece

Labour leader Andrew Little got the party’s East Coast election campaign off to a strong start on Friday by announcing a Labour-led government would coinvest up to $20 million for a prefabricated building materials plant on the Prime Sawmill site at Matawhero.

The policy, Labour’s second to be announced from a $200m regional economic development fund, came in the same week Prime owner Eastland Community Trust began a nationwide search for an operator of the mill where it is also developing a joint-venture wood product facility.

The announcement was welcomed by both Mayor Meng Foon and ECT chairman Michael Muir, who saw it as a huge vote of support for the district.

A plant transforming raw logs to timber and framing fits in too with Labour’s claims that the Government is not doing enough in response to the housing crisis.

And of course it would provide invaluable training and jobs in a region where unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is among the highest in the country.

For a long time local leaders have tried to encourage more processing of the log wave that instead just leaves the district virtually unchanged from when it is harvested. There have been many disappointments, such as the plan for a giant Hikurangi Forest Farms plant that did not go ahead, while the Prime site has seen a succession of different owners and false dawns.

A profitable plant on the Prime site would also be a tribute to the late Dick Twisleton, the man behind the original mill in 1985.

Just seeing Little here is a boost for Labour and brings back memories of First Past the Post days when this was a marginal seat and party leaders would visit a number of times as elections neared their climax.

His claim that the regions have been ignored by the present government got him a sympathetic hearing, while a statement that Labour supports a transport plan that includes rail and coastal shipping drew applause.

Overall it was a good start but it will still be a hard fight for Labour to recover the present widely-dispersed East Coast electorate.