Cabinet to rule on port move

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 11:30 26/10/2012

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The Cabinet will make a decision by Christmas on moving the interisland port from Picton to Clifford Bay, south of Seddon, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said yesterday.

Mr Brownlee said he had been working with officials for months to ensure any proposal that went to the Cabinet was "suitably robust".

"I anticipate a paper will go to Cabinet before Christmas."

Mr Brownlee, also the Christchurch Rebuild Minister, was stung into commenting after criticism by Mainfreight managing director Don Braid that he was "deflected by other issues and not devoting any time to transport".

Mr Braid was reported as saying his company had committed to rail "by putting ourselves on rail land in Wellington", but services between Wellington and Christchurch were disappointing and better timing was needed.

"Rail is not working for us from Wellington to the South Island. It is a weak link.

"We've got a transport minister who is deflected by other issues and is not devoting any time to transport."

He was not worried whether the terminal was at Picton or Clifford Bay as long as the ferries still carried rail freight, preserving the national rail system.

He was critical of the "idiots" at Tranzrail who had planned to take rail tracks off the ferries.

"We were aghast," he said.

He sees a future for Picton in servicing passenger ferries.

"I do believe that Picton still has a role to play for tourism and you would run a passenger vessel from Wellington to Picton. For freight, if they can make Clifford Bay work, that is fine."

Mr Brownlee received an interim briefing from the Transport Ministry and a draft business case on June 1, followed by a briefing and detailed business case on August 30, according to responses to questions in Parliament.

It has been more than a year since previous transport minister Steven Joyce decided the proposal to move the interisland terminal should be explored again and a decision made once and for all.

Moving the port from Picton to Clifford Bay has been discussed for decades. Supporters say it would reduce travel time, cutting ferry crossings by 30 minutes, road travel to Christchurch by 50 minutes and rail by 80 minutes, and would reduce fuel use by eliminating the hilly section at Seddon.

Opponents say Clifford Bay is too exposed to be useful, building a new port could cost more than $300 million, and there would be environmental risks.

Picton businesses are also worried about the impact the move would have on them.

Ferry operator Interislander has said it is interested in the proposal.

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- The Marlborough Express

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