DOC seeks advice on monorail viability

22/12/2013

Conservation Minister Nick Smith is delaying his decision on the Fiordland monorail proposal while DOC gets an independent financial viability report.

. . . “This is the most significant concession ever sought on public conversation land and the longest monorail in the world. I want to ensure my decision is based on the best quality advice,” Dr Smith says.

“I’m satisfied with the advice to date from my department on the proposal but I also need to decide if the project is financially viable. This is beyond the expertise of my department which is why I have asked for DOC to commission an independent financial viability report.

“This is an ambitious $200 million project. If it fails it could leave the department and taxpayer with a half-built or under-utilised structure through public conservation land.

“A bond can help manage these risks but it would never be possible to completely reverse the effects of such a construction. I need an independent robust assessment of the project’s financial viability to enable me to make a good decision.”

The Minister expects to receive the additional advice in February and will make his decision once he has given the report careful consideration.

The proposal is contentious but if it succeeds an economic analysis of the proposed  project says it could create 1000 jobs and deliver $80m a year to the economy.

The report for Riverstone, run by Bob Robertson, was prepared by Brown, Copeland & Co in Wellington to forecast the employment and income effects if the monorail gets a green light.

Mr Robertson said it was important the public recognised the economic benefits of jobs and increased tourism spending in Fiordland.

“The estimates contained in this report are conservative. Even so, generating $80m more in export receipts and adding hundreds of permanent jobs to the economy is a significant opportunity for New Zealand.”

If consented, Riverstone say the company plans a multimillion-dollar international annual marketing campaign and the monorail could attract 30,000 people a year, equivalent to $82.5m based on the average spend per visitor of $2750.

At a national level, the Fiordland Link Experience would provide more than 300 fulltime jobs or equivalent during a 2 -year construction time frame, the report said.

Once operational the project was estimated to generate an additional 747 jobs and $38.2m a year in additional income.

Mr Robertson said 45 per cent of foreign tourists did not visit the South Island and Riverstone would target this group to extend their stay and encourage a visit to Fiordland. “If we can convince just five per cent to do so, even if only for two days, that’s an extra $26m for our economy. We also hope to persuade many New Zealanders to spend a family holiday in Fiordland.

“Like any major project, we have our detractors. But we are ambitious for New Zealand and the Fiordland tourism industry. Our aim is to beat these estimates and deliver $100m in increased tourism activity every year.” . . .

These are big numbers and the area could well do with the business opportunities and jobs the monorail would provide if it succeeds.

Whether a business succeeds or fails is usually the business of the business doing it.

But in this case failure could leave a mess on public land and the Minister is wise to get the extra information he needs before making his decision.


Monorail decision a tough one

31/10/2013

Conservation Minister Nick Smith faces a tough decision over whether or not the Fiordland Monorail goes ahead:

Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith today inspected the site of the proposed Fiordland monorail, met with the applicants, and released official advice recommending he approve the project subject to extensive conditions.

“This ambitious $200 million project involves the building of the world’s longest monorail to enhance the experience of the hundreds of thousands of visitors travelling between Queenstown and Milford Sound,” Dr Smith says.

“I wanted to see for myself the areas affected by the construction of the two terminals and the 29.5-kilometre long, six-metre wide corridor that would be cleared to make way for the monorail through public conservation land. I also wanted to thoroughly scrutinise the impacts on the Snowdon Forest and its wildlife, as well as understanding the effects on the existing recreational users of the area.

“This monorail decision will be no easier than that of the Milford Tunnel. I am very protective of National Parks like Fiordland and this project has the advantage of being largely outside it. However, the monorail still requires clearance of a large area of forest on public conservation land. The submissions process also shows there are strongly held views both in support and in opposition to this project.

“I am releasing the official reports from DOC and the Hearing Commissioner because of the level of public interest in this proposal. I want to be open about the advice I have received and the issues I must consider.

“Today I have inspected the site and met with the Hearing Commissioner and the applicants, Riverstone Holdings Limited. I also want to discuss the proposal with the New Zealand Conservation Authority and consider further advice from DOC on the World Heritage status of the area.

“Over the next few days I will be joining the 125th anniversary walk of the Milford Track and on Saturday opening the new track to the Sutherland Falls.

“I am looking forward to having some time to reflect on my site visit and the hundreds of pages of submissions and advice I have read over the past week. I hope to be in a position to make a decision before year’s end, subject to being satisfied that I have all necessary information needed to make a good decision.”

The Minister turned down a competing proposal for the Milford Dart tunnel.

“I am declining this tunnel proposal because the environmental impacts are significant and beyond what is appropriate in two of New Zealand’s most spectacular National Parks and a World Heritage Area,” Dr Smith says. . . .

The Monorail proposal is not nearly so clear cut.

It goes through conservation land but it doesn’t go through a National Park. The Hearings Commissioner and the Department of Conservation have recommended it goes ahead.

Those recommendations have not been made lightly and are subject to significant conditions, but will give RHL some hope.

Opposition has been vocal and widespread. However, a poll showed public support for the proposal:

A public opinion poll has this month confirmed more than twice as many New Zealanders support the development of tourism infrastructure like the Fiordland monorail than are opposed.

“The Fiordland Link Experience is designed to be a world-class tourism experience. It’s really encouraging that the public recognises the significant benefits it will bring to New Zealand despite some misinformation spread by a small group of vocal opponents,” says Bob Robertson, Director of Riverstone Holdings Ltd.

The Curia Market Research survey found that 58% of New Zealanders supported the development of the monorail outside of National Park land. Only 27% opposed it. When broken down, the results showed there was more support than opposition regardless of gender, age or political leanings. . . 

Robertson has a reputation for carefully and attractively developed urban subdivisions.

Housing developments in town can’t be compared to this proposal for a new tourist route to Milford Sound through mostly undeveloped countryside. But the attention to detail and focus on aesthetics which help the subdivisions fit in with the landscape will be applied to the Monorail project.

Opponents have used the argument the development would threaten Fiordland’s World Heritage status. Robertson describes  that as scaremongering:

. . . These same opponents have lobbied UNESCO and continue to tell anyone who will listen that the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage status of the region will be stripped if the project is approved. The World Heritage area covers 2.6m hectares and includes roads, towns and quarries.

This scaremongering would be laughable if it wasn’t so destructive.

We only need to look across the Tasman to see how a tourism development can be successfully achieved in a World Heritage area.

When the Cairns Skyrail was being proposed for the Barron Gorge National Park in the 1990s there were marches in the street and protesters attempted to block construction.

The same arguments we are seeing now in Fiordland are the carbon copy of those used in Cairns.

Fortunately, the Australian government understood the project and it was approved.

It went on to win multiple tourism awards as best major attraction and for environmental sustainability, including the international Wet Tropics Management Authority Cassowary Award in 1999 for “demonstrating best practice in ecotourism during construction and ongoing operation”.

In New Zealand, there is an elitist sentiment among some that we should lock up our conservation estate for the few who are capable of physically reaching it. They believe business has no place in nature.

In reality, 44 per cent of the South Island is in the conservation estate and hosts about 2800 commercial concessions, including roughly 500 that are tourism or recreation-related.

It isn’t a question of either business or conservation. They can and do co- exist.

We would not be committed to the Fiordland Link Experience if we did not believe the construction and operation could be achieved with only minimal impact on the environment and recreational users.

The reasoning is simple – we want to celebrate our nature and show it off. It is in our interests to protect nature, because that’s the experience we’re selling.

As a hunter and fisher who has spent thousands of hours in the surrounding area, I know there is room for a world- class tourism experience.

It will reinvigorate the tourism market in Fiordland, stimulate the economy, bring jobs and enable us to market the entire region, including Te Anau, to the world. All without a cent of taxpayer money. . . .

This is a big project, a bold project but it has been carefully thought through and planned to tread as lightly as possible in a sensitive area.

It will impact on the environment, as any development does, but I think that can be minimised and mitigated.

It will open a small part of the conservation estate to more tourists without in any way detracting from the wilderness experience for those who enjoy it in the neighbouring National Park.

Bob Robertson has a dream, the Minister has the unenviable task of deciding whether or not it will become a reality.

Apropos of dreams,  Gravedodger has one too over at No Minister which is worth a read.

P.S. The decision to make New Zealand’s Sharpest town, the Southern Hemisphere’s first #gigatown is far easier – #gigatownoamaru is the logical choice.


No tunnel doesn’t mean no monorail

23/07/2013

Nick Smith made the right decision in turning down the application for the Milford Dart tunnel through parts of Fiordland and Aspiring National Parks.

He now faces the equally tough decision over the monorail proposal.

I am in two minds about this project.

It would create opportunities for tourism and stop the overcrowding associated with the number of buses which do the Queenstown-Milford trip in a day.

And one of the men behind the project, Bob Robertson, has a reputation for doing development in a sensitive way with landscape enhancement a priority.

However, there’s a big difference between urban housing projects and this one in a largely undeveloped area.

Those wanting to ‘save Fiordland’ think the tunnel decision will strengthen their case against the monorail.

That isn’t necessarily so.

This is a very different proposal which crosses a conservation area not a National Park and the Minister will have to judge it on its merits.

 

 


Would involving these people make things happen?

20/09/2011

Labour leader Phil Goff announced his party’s earthquake recovery policy yesterday and said:

We can’t fix every problem but we can improve the outcomes for Cantabrians because we’ll get involved and make things happen.”

Would involving a Labour-led government make things happen and even if it did, would it be the right things?

John Key called the proposal a blank cheque and given Goff didn’t give a figure for the total cost of the package, that is what it could be.

This policy might help Labour get some votes in Christchurch and surrounding quake-hit areas where there are some desperate people. But awful as their situations are, they are a minority and there are a lot of other calls on public money.

Labour is also threatening to force land sales:

Labour would compulsorily acquire land if developers did not agree to sell at a reasonable price.

“If there is excessive profiteering and price gouging, we would consider using the provision of the Cera [Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority] legislation to compulsorily acquire land at a fair market price,” Goff said.

Would the government be any better at finding a fair market price than the market?

Infinity Investment Group managing director Bob Robertson said it was unlikely a government could develop land cheaper than private companies, and it would be exposing taxpayers to a huge risk.

Infinity is behind the Pegasus development and several others in Canterbury.

Robertson said that at best, a government land purchase would shave 20 per cent off the cost for buyers by forgoing profits, but those savings would probably be lost through “inefficiencies”.

“Developers are already trying hard to get the section prices down because that’s where the market is,” he said.

It’s easy to characterise property developers as jackals but they are in a very risky business and that risk is reflected in land prices. 

Goff is right that his party won’t be able to fix every problem and he won’t improve anything by giving people false-hope.

Earthquake recovery will be a long, complex and expensive process. It won’t be helped by uncosted policies.


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