Central government’s funding of $60m for job-creation projects in provincial areas includes almost $4.5m for new footpaths, cycleway extensions and even funding to improve horse trails in the Ōpōtiki District.

During March, central government invited submissions for ‘shovel-ready roading projects’ to stimulate local jobs and activate the provincial economy to help recover from the COVID-19 downturn.

Ōpōtiki District Council’s Engineering and Services Group Manager, Ari Erickson, considered how the criteria could work for Ōpōtiki projects and pulled together an application to fund the labour-intensive work of laying footpaths.

Chief Executive, Aileen Lawrie said that she was very proud of the work that went into the application and the analysis that sat behind it.

“It took many hours work over the Easter weekend to get the application in on time and Ari and his engineering team have done an outstanding job. The hard work has paid off with the announcement from the Hon Shane Jones earlier today,” Ms Lawrie said.

Council chose to focus on footpaths because not only does the township benefit from the amenity and safety improvements, the works have high workforce requirements and those labour needs could be sustained as the work moves from footpaths to harbour construction over the coming months and years.

“All up it looks like we’ll be able to address Opotiki’s degraded footpaths and install some new ones. That will be large parts of the Ōpōtiki township and a length for Te Kaha as well. The funding also covers extending the cycleway from the Pakowhai Bridge to Waiōtahe Pou Whenua which is great for tourism as well as local cyclists. And horse trails haven’t been forgotten, there is a bit of funding to extend and improve existing horse trails for riders,” Mr Erickson said.

Mr Erickson said that the community very clearly wanted better footpaths and it was clear each time the council asked for feedback on annual plans and the prioritisation of spending. However, it has always been a balance to ensure that the costs didn’t become unsustainable for the small district.

“We set aside a budget of $80,000 each year to add footpaths around town, prioritising most used areas and combining that work when we can with exiting roadworks or repairs.

“But this funding means we can now roll out new footpaths across town in one go. The benefits are significant – for those with mobility issues, prams, trolleys and wheelchairs. Footpaths in Te Kaha will also address significant safety issues along the state highway.

“Employment is another big part of it – it is quite a labour intensive process and will require local companies to increase their workforce pretty promptly to be able to keep up with the work. And it works very closely with the rock and concrete works that are coming online through the Harbour project, so it is not just a short-term thing – there will be work in this space for a long time into the future.” Mr Erickson said.