'It's over' - monorail rejected

Te Anau's Ray Willett is well prepared at a gathering in Te Anau yesterday as the group awaits...
Te Anau's Ray Willett is well prepared at a gathering in Te Anau yesterday as the group awaits the Government's decision on the Fiordland monorail. Photo by Christina McDonald.
Te Anau people should be crying - not cheering - over yesterday's government decision rejecting the idea of a $240 million Fiordland monorail, its backer says.

That was the view last night of Riverstone Holdings managing director Bob Robertson, of Wanaka, who has spent the past 10 years and $5 million pushing the project first suggested 16 years ago by the late Phillip Phillips, of Queenstown.

Mr Robertson told the Otago Daily Times he was disappointed, disillusioned and mystified by the decision announced by Conservation Minister Nick Smith yesterday afternoon.

Riverstone's 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 90km coach journey to Milford Sound.

Dr Smith rejected the proposal because independent tourism and financial analysis ''concluded it was not viable''.

Mr Robertson said the project could have gone ahead on condition he proved it was viable.

''You can't go and get an expert right now to absolutely guarantee economic viability.

''It's the wrong stage of the game. It's a hurdle a business like us shouldn't have to jump yet.

''I will take the risk on whether I spend more money ... on proving economic viability. I will do that.

''But I'm not going to do that until I know I have got a consent.''

He considered Dr Smith's decision-making process was ''flawed'' but accepted the decision brought the proposal to an end.

''This is an end for us. We wouldn't be taking this any further.

''It's over.''

Mr Robertson believed Te Anau businesses, in particular, would be the losers.

''They should be crying, actually. If there was one thing that would have helped Te Anau ... immensely it would be a monorail trip to [Lake] Te Anau, delivering real people - not people wanting a pee and a pie - delivering real people to attractions in Te Anau.

''They don't actually really realise what they have lost.''

Dr Smith said yesterday the link would also have had ''a significant impact on the area's flora, fauna and natural heritage''.

In October last year, Dr Smith released advice from the Department of Conservation and a hearing panel chaired by commissioner Graeme Ayres that recommended he approve the project.

Forest and Bird Otago-Southland field officer Sue Maturin said yesterday the monorail plans were unrealistic from the beginning.

''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,'' she said.

The Department of Conservation now needed to officially recognise the area's natural values and upgrade the protective status of the Snowdon Forest to ''save us all from many of these sorts of expensive and time-consuming fights in the future''.

Southland Mayor Gary Tong said the proposal would have brought few benefits for Te Anau or Southland.

''I did have grave concerns about the economics of this project. This decision is good news for sustainable tourism opportunities in the area, such as the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail and the project at Mt Nicholas.''

The news was welcomed by Trish Fraser, spokeswoman for Enviro Glenorchy - previously known as Glenorchy's Stop the Tunnel group - which successfully lobbied against the proposed Milford Dart tunnel.

''I'm absolutely delighted. It's fantastic news and I think Nick Smith is to be congratulated on yet another good decision.

''And the Save Fiordland group ... well done to them. They've done a huge amount of work to stop this.''

Ms Fraser hoped the decision would put an end to such proposals in national parks, which should be kept ''pure, green and without development''.

Tourism Industry Association Queenstown hotels regional chairwoman Penny Clark was also ''excited'' the proposal had been turned down, as she personally supported the Haast-Hollyford highway proposal.

''We know the drive into Milford is beautiful ... we could do that down the West Coast and it would be magic for people. It would give another route in and another route out.''

The Green Party said the decision was a victory for all New Zealanders who stood up for the environment.

''National clearly didn't want to be attacking the environment this close to the election,'' co-leader Metiria Turei said.

''This is another case of New Zealanders standing up to protect the places we love, and winning.''

Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand also applauded Dr Smith.

''We always had confidence that his thoughtful, engineering approach would deliver the right answer ... his analysis is spot on and matches our own conclusions,'' president Robin McNeill said.

''Our 17,000 members are pretty happy right now, and so we can put our war chest away and do something useful with the money instead. That is a great relief.

''Too often, dumb ideas go too far and waste everyone's time before they get stopped because they were never going to be economically viable.''

Labour's conservation spokeswoman, Ruth Dyson, was delighted the monorail had been ''stopped in its tracks''.

''From an economic and conservation perspective, this is a victory for common sense.''

Dr Smith said the ''door is still open'' for other proposals for access in Fiordland.


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