Monorail backers welcome Govt boost

The company behind plans for a $150 million monorail linking Lake Wakatipu with Te Anau says it would be "delighted" to discuss Government involvement in the project.

Ten days ago, infrastructure minister Bill English was reported as having "laid down" a challenge to business to come up with ideas for a $70 billion Government "spend up" on infrastructure over the next 10 years.

Wanaka-based property development company Infinity Group is one of the two parties that make up the monorail proposal of Riverstone Holdings.

When approached by the Otago Daily Times yesterday, executive director John Beattie said the company would welcome Government interest.

"If it [the Government] wants the private sector to come forward we will certainly accept the invitation of Mr English, to talk to him, and his colleagues."

He considered the monorail link would be a valuable addition to the country's tourism infrastructure.

"We believe from a tourism infrastructure point of view it's a highly necessary and wonderful opportunity to allow international tourists to have a real sense of untouched New Zealand."

Riverstone's proposal is to carry tourists across Lake Wakatipu by catamaran from Queenstown to Mt Nicholas Station, then by bus to a point on the Mararoa River.

From that point, they would travel 35km by monorail through the Snowdon Forest to Te Anau Downs and continue on to Milford Sound by bus.

The monorail would reduce the travel time for a round trip between Queenstown and Milford Sound by about three hours.

If the Department of Conservation grants permission, Mr Beattie said Riverstone Holdings would require other investors to come on board.

"It's a very significant amount of money and we had no concept of that being publicly supported, as it were, but we did realise that if it were to get to that stage it would be with a consortium of investors."

The monorail proposal is still progressing through an environmental impact assessment which would be followed by public hearings.

Mr Beattie considered 2010 would be the earliest that construction could begin.

"Originally, we wanted to be up and running by the Rugby World Cup but we see that's going to be difficult."

He did not consider the economic downturn would have an impact on the viability of the monorail project, provided tourist interest in Fiordland and Queenstown remained.

"As long as those remain attractions to people from around the globe there will be a strong business case for what we are proposing."

Mr English has said that if the private sector wanted to participate in the Government's infrastructure plans it needed to get its thoughts together because "we will be moving along fairly quickly".

He indicated a small, expert infrastructure unit would be in place by Christmas.

Mr English could not be contacted yesterday to clarify details of the Government's infrastructure spending plans. mark.price@odt.co.nz

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