Enthusiasm for Haast-Hollyford road evident at meeting

Haast-Hollyford highway meeting organiser Merv Halliday (left) and road promoter Durham Havill at...
Haast-Hollyford highway meeting organiser Merv Halliday (left) and road promoter Durham Havill at Monday night's public meeting in Te Anau. Photo by Allison Rudd.
Longtime Te Anau residents Murray and Margaret Knowles are dead against plans for a tunnel to shorten the distance between Queenstown and Milford Sound, and feel the same way about the monorail proposed to provide speedier access to the tourist spot.

But they are enthusiastic about another tourist-related project - a road linking the Milford road with the West Coast.

The Haast-Hollyford highway has been started from both north and south.

Construction of the 98km stretch in the middle, largely following a road reserve surveyed in the 1880s, would complete the circuit of South Island highways and boost tourism at both ends, according to its main promoter, former Westland mayor Durham Havill.

Mr and Mrs Knowles were among about 200 people at a public meeting in Te Anau on Monday evening to hear Mr Havill outline his plans to form a private company to progress the $220 million project.

When a show of hands was called for, the overwhelming majority of those present supported the road.

Mr and Mrs Knowles said they were ''more positive'' about the road than the other proposals.

''The tunnel and monorail were detrimental to Te Anau and the environment. This road would have less environmental impact and would surely be an economic benefit,'' Mr Knowles said.

Road worker Tim Duthie, who has started a Facebook page supporting the highway, drove from his Waihola home to attend.

He said he had been intrigued about the possibility of the highway since he was 14 and ''always thought of it as an unfinished project''.

Mr Havill told the meeting he was confident the highway could be built for $220 million and could be funded via a toll on road users of about $20 a head.

The plan was for the road to be handed back to the Westland and Southland district councils after 30 years, but Mr Havill said it would be sensible to keep the toll in place and put the money into other roading projects.

He believed motorists would willingly pay the toll for the novelty of using a new road through spectacular country and because the journey from Milford to Haast would be cut by 335km and four to five hours.

The road would provide a new option for tourists, he said, predicting coach tours would travel from Queenstown to Milford Sound, stop at Te Anau for the night then take the new tourist highway to the West Coast the next morning.

''I reckon we will more than double the number of tour buses coming to the West Coast. There are an estimated 100 tour buses visiting Milford Sound daily in the summer and if we can get half of them, we'll be happy.''

Another option for tourists would be taking the TransAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth, then visiting the glaciers and Milford Sound by road via the new highway.

Mr Havill announced last week he was setting up a private company to promote the road. It would take over from Westland Properties Ltd, a trading company owned by the Westland District Council.

Mr Havill is chairman of Westland Properties but plans to resign later this month.

On Monday night, he said six to 10 people would put in some money to ''get the ball rolling'' and a financier, whom he did not name, was in support.

He told the meeting he had given presentations to senior Government MPs, including Prime Minister John Key and Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith, and wanted as much public support for the road as possible.

''I want you all to tell the prime minister: 'Come on, PM - let's get on with it'.''

allison.rudd@alliedpress.co.nz

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