The impact on national tourism needs to be included when the new interisland ferry terminal at Clifford Bay is considered as a project of national significance, a meeting was told in Picton last night.
The meeting, which attracted about 250 people, was organised by the Marlborough District Council to get community views on the Government proposal to move the ferry terminal from Picton to Clifford Bay, south of Seddon.
Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman opened by saying while the proposal was granted resource consents in 1997 before being abandoned, it had "re-emerged with stronger legs".
"We don't know what is in the minds of ministers. We do know it is causing anxiety in the minds of many in Picton."
He and Kaikoura MP Colin King said they would work with businesses to present a clear message to the Government on the views of the Marlborough community.
Council executive officer Jamie Lyall, the council contact with the Ministry of Transport's Clifford Bay project team, said the Government had said no information on the proposal would be made public until the Cabinet made a decision whether to move the port.
"The transfer of information between the ministry and council is not plentiful at this stage."
Several tourism operators spoke about the impact if the terminal moved from Picton, with Jasmine Court Travellers Inn owner Tommy Waters saying 75 per cent of his business was ferry-related.
"This is the dumbest idea I've ever seen. A lot of international guests who travel through the Marlborough Sounds to stay here say what an absolute gem it is to travel through the Sounds and that scenery. That would all disappear."
Christian Lassueurs asked about the lack of input from Tourism NZ and Tourism Minister John Key.
"I've been here 18 years and always been told that tourism was really important. Why is the Tourism Minister not involved?"
Gallery owners David Hosie and Barbara Speedy said about 50 per cent of their customers were ferry passengers. Mr Hosie estimated that main street businesses in Picton would shut if ferry traffic dropped 20 per cent.
"To remove ferries would take out four of five businesses."
Others raised the issue of earthquake faultlines running through the proposed terminal site, the risks to endangered dolphins, potential effects on New Zealand's salt supply at the Dominion Salt works at Lake Grassmere, as well as the risk to shipping from the exposed site and lack of emergency services in the area.
Port Marlborough chief executive Ian McNabb said the main argument put forward for moving the port was the projected 70 per cent increase in freight during the next 20 years.
However, he did not believe that increase would eventuate and said ferries were running at only 28 per cent capacity annually. Existing ferries were able to handle any increase and there was land available in Picton for some time yet.
"The issue is that the freight business, the passenger business and the car business across the strait is a seasonal one. Three months of the year, they are flat-stick and then it tails off."
Picton Bakkerij manager Sarah O'Bryan said the Government needed to do a reasonable economic analysis of the proposed move and no decision should be made without including that.
Mr King said the Government was looking at measuring the cost-effectiveness of Clifford Bay in the first stage. The impact on Marlborough would be studied after that.
"I would also make the point that as the MP for this region, it is my responsibility to make sure that Picton, Marlborough, is uppermost in the Government's mind. We have to make sure the people making the decisions are aware of the human impact."
Further meetings are at the Marlborough Convention Centre in Blenheim at 7pm today, and at Havelock Hall at noon tomorrow.
- The Marlborough Express