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Southland advanced earth observation institute proposed

(AMBER-LEIGH WOOLF, March 17 2016) A plan for an advanced earth observation centre in Southland is understood to have made the shortlist for the Government’s regional research institutes initiative.

The plan, submitted by Venture Southland, is understood to be on the ministry’s initial shortlist selected from 24 applicants. The proposal, called the ‘Earth Add Vantage Centre for Advanced Earth Observation’, could become part of the government’s initiative to support the establishment of up to three privately-led regional research institutes outside of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

The research institute would take data and make it commercially valuable. It is understood the Awarua Satellite Ground Station would be central to the project.

Southland Regional Development Strategy governance group chair Tom Campbell said the institute would interpret data from Southland’s tracking stations for the benefit of New Zealand, Campbell.

The data could be used in a range of ways from assisting with agriculture to helping track forest fires “and where they’re breaking out”.

“It allows us to look at New Zealand and particularly Southland and being able to interpret things about Southland like crop growth. That will become the information that’s commercially valuable.”

If established the institute’s research could be used nationwide, Campbell said.

“What we’re looking at is using that data to support New Zealand. It’s a broader part of the economy. It’s the fact that the data can be used to help farmers farm better.”

Campbell said the research institute could provide confidence for new business in Southland.

“It would not create other jobs in the short-term but I think it will be a great incentive for technology-based businesses to come down.

“I think it’s a great initiative for Southland. It’s got tremendous long-term potential.”

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment would not confirm that the bid had been shortlisted, with principal policy advisor of science policy Ron Clink saying an evaluation process was underway.

“Shortlisted applicants will be announced in the coming weeks and will be invited to progress to the next stage of the process – business case development.

“The final numbers will depend, among other things, on the number and strength of proposals and subsequent business cases, and on the level and duration of financial commitments from the businesses and research organisations that will be directly involved.”

MBIE would make its final recommendations to Cabinet once business case developments were completed, Clink said.

“The Government has set aside $25 million in total funding over three years. How much funding each institute requires will be determined as part of the evaluation and business case development process.”

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt said Southland’s large skies were advantageous for satellite research.

“I don’t think any other region will be as advanced in terms of space technology as Southland at the moment. To be on the short-list even is a compliment.”

Deputy Mayor Darren Ludlow said if the research institute was established it would be a positive for Southland.