Mayor says deal keeps us in the loop

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 14:35 10/01/2013

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The Marlborough District Council signed a confidentiality agreement with the Ministry of Transport to make sure it was involved in discussions on the proposal to move the interisland ferry port to Clifford Bay, the mayor said yesterday.

A Ministry of Transport project team is working on the feasibility of moving the port from Picton to Clifford Bay, south of Seddon, and it has confidentiality agreements with three key stakeholders - the council, KiwiRail and Strait Shipping - so it can hold "confidential strategic and commercial discussions" with them.

Marlborough Mayor Alastair Sowman said he did not have a "huge understanding" of the confidentiality agreement because there was not a lot of detail when the paper was put forward.

"I signed it to keep us in the loop. If we didn't sign it, we wouldn't be included in the discussions."

He did not know what needed to be kept confidential, and would not know what the agreement entailed until the council next got to meet the ministry's project team, he said. No time had not been set for that meeting yet.

" I don't know what the Ministry of Transport role actually is. I guess I'll find out," Sowman said.

The council role as advocate for the community on Clifford Bay was "very transparent" and he didn't have a problem separating that work from its confidential discussions with the ministry.

"It wasn't a major at the time. It was just a document that got us in the loop. That's all I know at the moment."

Picton-based councillor David Oddie said yesterday that he and fellow Sounds ward councillors Trevor Hook and Graeme Barsanti had not known about the confidentiality agreement.

If it was the only way the council could be involved in the process, then it needed to sign up, he said.

"It is a difficult one for us. A lot of people will view it as council doing things behind closed doors. It's not. They need to tackle central government about this.

"We need to be involved. We need to know what their thinking is on this project. We need to be involved for our community."

The decision appeared to be out of the council's hands and the best thing it could do was to make sure the district got the best deal possible from the Government when the final decision was made.

Getting a compensation package was the goal to enable the district to market and grow despite the port leaving Picton, in the same way as the West Coast got help after native forestry logging was stopped.

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"It's about growing the pie rather than shrinking it."

Strait Shipping managing director Sheryl Ellison confirmed her company had met the ministry commercial director heading up the Clifford Bay investigations last month and had signed a confidentiality agreement.

Strait Shipping operates the BlueBridge Cook Strait ferry service, in competition to KiwiRail's Interislander service.

"Strait Shipping was participating in the Ministry of Transport's process, which is investigating the feasibility of Clifford Bay," she said.

KiwiRail confirmed on Tuesday it had signed the confidentiality agreement.

- The Marlborough Express

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