Solution for budget blowout can be reached: MP

NZ First MP Mark Patterson
NZ First MP Mark Patterson
Otago-based NZ First MP Mark Patterson believes a solution can be reached after a budget blowout for the Interislander Cook Strait Ferry upgrade, while transport operators are calling for a more prudent approach.

KiwiRail had requested an additional $1.47billion, a component of which had been agreed to in principle by the previous government, to address cost escalation related to associated harbour-side infrastructure in Wellington and Picton, including to accommodate new larger ferries.

To date, $435.1million of taxpayer money has been assigned for the Inter-Island Resilient Connection (iReX) project of which about $63m remains.

Rural Communities Minister Mark Patterson said it was only prudent to reassess the situation.

"The fact of the matter is that we have seen a massive cost blowout, and we’ve only just been informed of it.

"Clearly this is essential infrastructure, and it is important we see some progress on this, particularly for the rural sector in the South Island.

"But the relevant information has only just come to light."

He said it was up to the relevant ministers to sort out the timeframes for an alternative solution, but he was sure one could be reached.

His comments come after Taieri MP Ingrid Leary called on the government to clarify how they intend to ensure there is a sustainable and reliable Cook Strait ferry service.

"The new government’s decision to pull the pin on improving the Cook Strait ferry service shows they don’t care about South Islanders.

"Leaving South Island businesses and residents without a clear plan as to how this crucial connection will be maintained will create uncertainty and instability and ultimately hurt their wallets.

"We need to hear urgently — and with details — how and when any plan will be delivered."

Open Country Dairy general manager for transport Brett Hamilton said there needed to be resilience in the ferry fleet, but it was "extremely disappointing" not enough due diligence was done on the project.

"It is true that the stretch of water that is the Cook Strait is our biggest Achilles’ heel when it comes to transport, and there needs to be fast and efficient ferry access.

"But I think there will be a lot of other, more cost-effective options to the problem.

"There will be existing stock available throughout the world."

Otago-based Road Transport Logistics chief executive Shona Robertson said she would expect a full review about "what is required with a budget blow out as large as this".

"That’s what a responsible government would do.

"However it is imperative that this is done with urgency, to ensure the lack of infrastructure today doesn’t stop our country from moving tomorrow, remembering the only thing that doesn’t get delivered by a truck is a baby."