An artist's impression of the Fiordland monorail. Supplied
Plans for a $240 million Fiordland monorail have been
derailed by Conservation Minister Nick Smith, who says the
project does not stack up economically or
The announcement was widely welcomed, but Riverstone Holdings
- the company behind the plan - says the reasons given for
the decision are flawed.
Dr Smith said this afternoon an independent tourism and
financial analysis concluded the project was not
"There would be a significant impact on the area's
flora, fauna and natural heritage," he said.
"The route is not sufficiently defined to properly assess the
The Fiordland Link Experience proposed a new link between
Queenstown and Milford Sound consisting of a 20km boat
excursion across Lake Wakatipu to Mt Nicholas Station, a 45km
all-terrain vehicle ride to Kiwi Burn, a 43.8km monorail ride
to Te Anau Downs and a 90-kilometre coach journey to Milford
The application included a lease, licence and concession for
the monorail and related infrastructure through the South
West New Zealand World Heritage Area including the Snowdon
Forest and Fiordland National Park.
Dr Smith said the monorail plan had more merit than the
Miford Tunnel proposal, and had been a more difficult
decision to make.
"I have visited the site twice, met its applicants twice,
consulted with the New Zealand Conservation Authority, and
spent days reading the relevant reports and responses from
the applicants," he said.
Dr Smith said he did not want the decision interpreted as the
Government and the Department of Conservation (DOC) being
opposed to any proposal for alternative access options in
"The door is still open but proposals will need to be both
environmentally sustainable and economically viable."
Riverstone Holdoings managing director Bob Robertson said the
Minister's rejection of the plan came as a surprise.
"We have proven our commitment to the environment and this
project at every step and our plans have been vindicated by
experts. To have our application face constant delays and
ultimately end up with a decision being made months out from
a national election is incredibly disheartening," Mr
"We recognise that there will always be opponents of
innovative ideas, but having stuck to this process in good
faith, and incurred costs of over $5 million, this is a tough
pill to swallow. No business should have to suffer a process
Mr Robertson said reasons given for the decision were deeply
"The Minister has ruled that he could not be satisfied the
project would be financially viable - a decision based on
studies he commissioned that two independent expert
assessments, commissioned by us, judged to be manifestly
wrong as their conclusions were based on old data and made a
series of assumptions that could not be justified."
Economic viability could not be truly established until
extensive engineering design had been done, a detailed
business case had been developed and funding was sourced.
That would take at least six months, and would cost hundreds
of thousands of dollars, he said.
"To that end, we proposed the following condition regarding
the project's viability be included: ‘That the project has
been the subject of a robust due diligence process certified
by a qualified third party and has subsequently secured all
capital (equity and debt) to successfully build, complete and
fund the ongoing operations of the business'."
DECISION WIDELY WELCOMED
Dr Smith's decision met with approval from several lobby
groups and political parties.
Members of the Save Fiordland group had gathered at the Olive
Tree Cafe in central Te Anau and eagerly awaited the decision
on an idea which had consumed so much of their time over the
past two years.
When word came the monorail had been refused there were
sudden gasps of joy from Manapouri's Ruth Shaw, who is on the
"It's two years of hard work but it's paid off."
Forest and Bird welcomed the decision, saying it was great
news for the World Heritage Area.
"The monorail plans were unrealistic from the beginning, as
there is no way the applicant could have restored the old
growth forest, tussock grasslands or wetlands the project
would have destroyed. It could also have been catastrophic
for the bat population," Otago Southland field officer Sue
DOC needed to finish the job it started years ago and
classify all stewardship land.
"If it had done, the monorail developer would have been saved
the cost of getting his proposal this far. And it would have
saved community groups likes Forest & Bird the time and
expense of advocating for the protection of the Snowdon
Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand president Robin
McNeill welcomed the new approach the Minister took in
assessing the ability of the applicant to undertake the work
and make a go of it.
"This is something we have wanted for a long time. Too often,
dumb ideas go too far and waste everyone's time before they
get stopped because they were never going to be economically
Labour Conservation spokeswoman Ruth Dyson called Dr Smith's
decision "a victory for common sense".
"The monorail would have had a major impact on a special part
of Fiordland which is a mecca for trampers and visitors to
New Zealand," she said.
"New Zealanders were loud and clear in their opposition to
this, with thousands signing a petition opposing the
"I am delighted that the Monorail has been stopped in its
If it went ahead, the monorail development would have been
the largest concession ever granted on conservation land.
A hearing commissioner recommended in November that the
project should go ahead with extensive conditions.
Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei said the decision showed
the voices of New Zealanders who loved and protected the
environment could be heard loud and clear.
"More than 18,000 people signed Save Fiordland's petition to
protect the Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand World
Heritage area and stop the monorail, and now the Government
has finally listened," she said.
"This is another case of New Zealanders standing up to
protect the places we love, and winning."
United Future leader Peter Dunne and outdoors spokesperson
Alan Simmons were relieved by the decision.
"A monorail barreling through an otherwise untouched valley
diminishes immeasurably that strength," said Mr Dunne.
Mr Simmons agreed: "I am so glad that this beautiful area
will be preserved for future hunters and trampers to enjoy
like we have for generations."