Ghost town future feared

JARED NICOLL
Last updated 11:30 29/01/2013

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Picton people are scared their schools will close, medical services will leave and the town could become a "great retirement village", according to a survey of business owners.

Picton Village Bakkerij manager Sarah O'Bryan independently and anonymously surveyed 27 Picton business owners between December 22 and January 22 on their feelings about the Government investigation to move the interisland ferry terminals from Picton to Clifford Bay, south of Seddon.

Eleven of the responses were from the accommodation sector and four from tourism operators.

The survey will remain open until February 25 to get greater input.

In her report, which she sent to the Ministry of Transport, Ms O'Bryan asked it to release any information it had already gathered, as secrecy and refusal to release economic impact reports was creating "turmoil and uncertainty in our community", she said.

Any government investigation should look at all the stakeholders, she said, "from the interests of New Zealand as a productive nation, to my staff or our customers who could lose their livelihoods, to property owners who might gain or lose property value as a result of this decision, to the schoolchildren whose schools could close".

"The investigation team needs to take into account the effects on more than just the balance sheet. This proposal is affecting, and its outcomes will affect, people's lives."

Twelve business operators noted "significantly decreased" confidence in the future of their business because of the investigation, while 13 believed the value of their business would "significantly decrease", although the majority had not yet experienced any change in revenue from the proposal.

Stress levels were increasing, 20 of the 27 said they were less inclined to invest significant capital in their business and 24 said they were unlikely to take on new staff.

At least nine respondents failed to see any positive effects for the town. One person thought Picton would become like a "ghost town"; one felt it might be more of a destination in its own right; another said it would become a "great retirement village"; and another said "no problem getting a carpark".

Potential negative effects included fewer tourists, school and business closures, a loss of medical services and an overall dip in "resident confidence".

Most in the accommodation sector signalled they expected to lose at least half their turnover, with five of the 11 estimating they would lose at least 80 per cent.

A water transport company estimated it would lose 70 per cent, while tourism operators estimated losses of 30 to 60 per cent.

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Ms O'Bryan said she conducted the survey after talking to other business managers and owners in the town who felt the Government had failed to get their feedback on the ferry proposal and feared they would not have any input on the final decision.

"Considering the magnitude of the potential effects of the move of the ferries out of Picton, many people were rightly concerned that this investigation and decision was being taken without full information or concern or even appreciation for locals' views."

Picton Business Group chairman Graham Gosling said he supported the survey because it gave owners a chance to share their thoughts in a way that could be turned into hard evidence, not emotional rhetoric.

"To lose that million-odd passengers that come each year, it would have a big effect, far more than a lot of people realise.

"The reality is that Picton has developed into a ferry town."

Questions sent to the Ministry of Transport were not answered yesterday.

LINK TO SARAH O'BRYANS REPORT Clifford Bay Ferry Terminal Relocation - Effects on Picton Business and Community

- The Marlborough Express

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