Wairarapa Times-Age, 15 November 2018  ||  Waingawa a ‘true inland port’, MP says.

Those with “skin in the game” say the Wairarapa forestry industry can continue to grow, but only if rail infrastructure expands with it and employment training is better supported by the Government.

More than five years since the Wairarapa-based logging and trucking companies started carting logs by rail from Waingawa, reducing the number of logging trucks on the road to Wellington, they are asking for more government support to boost their growing industry.

Forestry Minister Shane Jones met key industry stakeholders at Waingawa Rail Hub on Tuesday morning to understand the Wairarapa industry – and told them he needed to know where best to direct his attention.

“I said to the forestry stakeholders to direct my attention to achievable targets – your problems are not unlike other problems in forestry.

“If it’s training and infrastructure, if it’s a need to work with landowners so the value of forest is better understood, direct my attention to them and I will get cracking and seek to deliver them,” Jones said.

Forest Enterprises CEO Bert Hughes told Jones that there was room to grow log volumes by 50 per cent, but labour and rail infrastructure were two key factors holding the industry back.

The Wairarapa train line exists for commuters, and the log wagons work around the commuter services, he said.

“It’s not about the money, no one likes to see log trucks on the road, but capacity is maxed out – we could use another train, now,” Hughes said.

Forest Enterprises has about 140,000 tonnes of wood leaving the region each year, but that could be ramped up to about 210,000 tonnes immediately if there was more rail capacity.

Logs are trucked in from destinations up to 70km away from the yard, Hughes said.

The businesses have six weeks from harvest to process the logs, transport them to Wellington and get them on to a ship bound for China.

Forestry Minister Shane Jones, who was in the region to help launch the Wairarapa Economic Development Strategy on Monday night, said he met the industry stakeholders to understand constraints in the business and to talk the One Billion Trees programme.

Jones said the logging site at Waingawa was “very impressive”.

“There’s a lot of sweat and stress behind what we see but that’s what it’s like running provincial businesses in a provincial economy.”

He is eyeing up from Wairarapa to southern Hawke’s Bay as a prime area for the One Billion Trees programme.

“The fact is we need to get over the line,” Jones said. “No one should doubt whether or not Wairarapa is regarded as an area deserving of government attention.”

He will organise for KiwiRail’s new chairman Greg Miller to meet the companies “to see, touch, listen and learn from people with skin in the game”.

NZ First Minister of Defence Ron Mark said about a decade ago, the region’s three district councils and the Greater Wellington Regional Council formed the Waingawa industrial area with the intention to use rail more.

“It’s a true inland port,” said Mark, a Carterton resident.

Many things could be done to boost the industry, but roads and transport were key, he said.

Mark said the Wairarapa roads, not covered by the New Zealand Transport Agency, were being “hammered” and there needed to be more funding to the district councils to manage that.

Labour MP Kieran McAnulty said hearing the successes and the issues showed him the region’s three MPs needed to work together to improve it.

“By bringing the Minister here to hear what’s holding back growth, what we keep hearing is rail is holding it back, so we just have to do a few things to make it hum.”

PHOTO At Waingawa’s log storage and rail yard: [back row, from left] Southern North Island Wood Council CEO Erica Kinder, C3 area manager Steve Chapple, Forest Enterprises CEO Bert Hughes, Labour MP Kieran McAnulty, Guy Farman of Farman Turkington Limited; [front row, from left] NZ First MP Ron Mark, Forestry Minister Shane Jones and C3 Waingawa site manager Craig Allen.