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'Gamechanger' - Multi-million dollar Otago cycle trail given the green light

A multi-million dollar cycle trail project in Otago has been given the green light after more than a decade searching for funds.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced a funding boost for a series of Otago-based projects in Milton on Friday morning.

Cheers rang out as the community welcomed what they hope will be a catalyst for growth for their region.

Clutha District Mayor Bryan Cadogan said extending the Clutha Gold Great Ride Cycle Trail would be a game-changer for the district.

The project received $6.5 million through the Provincial Growth Fund.

And Mr Cadogan said it turned a pipeline dream into a reality.

"This is just such a tonic finally to have the cavalry come in over the horizon. For so long now, we've had hopes, dreams, aspirations that have been stymied somewhat by our ability to fund, by our ability to get the momentum, and in the Provincial Growth Fund, finally we've got someone holding hands and it means so much for our district," Mr Cadogan said.

The trail at the moment only reaches the fringe of the district.

The extension will wind through the hills, from former gold rush town Lawrence, through Manuka Gorge along the floodplains to Milton and to the lakeside township of Waihola.

Once finished, the new 63km route will help link Clutha District to Queenstown Airport and be within 20km of Dunedin Airport.

Steve Michelle - whose family owns the Waihola Tavern, nearby camping ground and store - said he has high hopes for the small businesses along the trail.

"It's such a small town, any small pub struggles a bit in New Zealand's environment," Mr Michelle said.

"We'd like to think it'll tip the business from about holding steady to it may make it a profitable business."

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones was welcomed to the Clutha District by a haka, and song - and even joined in.

The trail extension would boost jobs and visitors for the region, he said. It's expected to take three years and more than 60 workers to build.

And it wasn't long before Shane Jones hopped on a bike to mark the occasion.

But it wasn't just the cycle trail that received a funding boost - $218,000 is earmarked for a new slip lane off State Highway 1 to Rosebank Industrial Park in Balclutha, while a further $250,000 is set aside to assess the future needs of Dunedin's construction industry.

Mr Jones also announced funding to assess a potential Cromwell adventure park and for a Dunedin-based manufacturing company to explore new wood fire technology.

"It's really important for those of us who stand up and fight for the provincial sustainability of New Zealand every single day, that we spread our risks so it's not just all in tourism, it's not just all in construction ... we spread the opportunities," he said.

Clutha Gold Trail Trust chairperson Murray Paterson said he expected more businesses would start up once visitors began cycling through.

"With the amount of people that we hope to see coming down the trail, no, there's not enough accommodation and services provided at the moment," Mr Paterson said.

"We're probably not too far away but it will need to build on that, which will generate quite a lot of growth for the district."

Bryan Cadogan said he didn't want to put limits on the growth.

"I don't want to put a ceiling on it. I see now that it's the catalyst to the skies the limit ... we're seeing our young people coming back and having the confidence that they can move forward. If we put the framework in place, it's for them to pick up and run with," Mr Cadogan said.

But when will work start on the different projects?

Shane Jones said contracts had to be negotiated first, but he wanted tighter timeframes.

"There's been a pattern when money is involved, with contracts going backwards and forwards from lawyers. I would prefer the approach that you associate with the banking industry, the bank offers you capital and you have limited time to draw it down and take it," Mr Jones said.

"I'm going to put the pressure on the people who receive the pūtea from the fund, from now on they've got to move a lot quicker."

Mr Jones hoped that pressure would get the project on the road later this year.

rnz.co.nz - Tess Brunton

Shane Jones hopped on a bike to mark the occasion. Source: rnz.co.nz