Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones is disappointed with the delays in the development of Taranaki Crossing but says it’s not his responsibility to lead the project.
The project has been funded by the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) and Department of Conservation Tourism Pressures funding and will see the improvement of several tracks, including the popular Pouakai Crossing, to give visitors a world-class experience representing the maunga and its people.
The PGF has funded $13.3 million toward a total project cost of $19.13 million. The previous National government funded $3.4 million of the project in 2017. But Jones says the project has been moving at a “sluggish pace.”
“I would like nothing better than to accelerate the project. I stand very solidly with our Taranaki iwi, our whānau up there. However, it’s at a community and at a practical level.”
Jones says since he’s not the minister of conservation it’s not his responsibility and believes iwi themselves need to drive the project.
“I think it’s unrealistic to expect someone who’s covering the whole motu and who’s the steward of a $3 billion fund would have to roll his sleeves up and drive every single project because there are literally hundreds and hundreds of projects.”
DOC’s Taranaki operations manager Gareth Hopkins said in March the Department of Conservation and the Provincial Growth Fund had worked closely with iwi and hapū on developing the project.
However, Taranaki iwi Ngāti Ruanui walked away from the project after making an Official Information Act (OIA) request to find out where the millions of dollars were being spent.
Ngāti Ruanui kaiarataki Debbie Ngarewa Packer waited five months for a response but said it was still unclear where the money was going and why the project was taking so long.
Jones says he has seen Packer’s remarks and the concerns that she has expressed.
"The reality is that it's Taranaki maunga and it's DoC land and anything to do with DoC is very complicated and, despite my best efforts to use my gallons of rhetoric, the Taranaki maunga project has been very sluggish.
"But to suggest there has been anything untoward with how the money has been used, I won’t tolerate one iota of those allegations.”
Packer previously sat on the Taranaki Crossing steering committee but Jones says he’s been advised that Packer hasn’t been attending many of the meetings.
“But then she’s possibly hoha going to meetings and seeing no progress. But I think everyone needs to bear in mind that iwi issues on the Taranaki maunga, they’re incredibly deep and incredibly complicated.”
DoC says the project will strengthen connections to the natural and cultural heritage of the maunga, enhance biodiversity and provide opportunities for local people, including iwi to express their kaitiakitanga of the mountain by sharing their stories.
The project is scheduled to be finished in 2023.