Shifting port 'will isolate region'

ANNA PEARSON
Last updated 13:00 19/02/2013

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The top of the south risks becoming a "regional cul de sac" if the interisland ferries move to Clifford Bay, says Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman.

His view was this morning backed by Nelson city councillor Eric Davy who is organising a meeting between Mr Sowman and the Nelson and Tasman mayors to discuss the issue.

He said the ferries shift to Clifford Bay would turn Nelson Tasman into a "destination", meaning only those who wanted to come across from Marlborough would, and the temptation to head straight to Christchurch would be greater.

"It's going to be, ‘Do we have to go there or can we get to the West Coast by going through Christchurch?' People will have to have a reason to come here. I see it as having implications both for our own costs, and the potential loss of benefit from tourism. It will have implications possibly for the Buller region as well. It's a huge issue," he said.

Mr Davy said freight would be more expensive from Clifford Bay to Nelson, as it was further to go and there were more hills.

"We have to rely on the trucking industry for all our freight. Everything we get that comes by road is going to have an increased cost attached to it," he said.

Mr Davy said if Clifford Bay went ahead then Nelson would have to seriously consider a new ferry service from New Plymouth or Wellington, reinstating the one lost in 1965.

Mr Sowman said feedback from four public meetings last week suggested Picton could lose about 200 port, rail and ferry related jobs and that figure could double when associated employment in the retail, hospitality and accommodation sector was taken into account.

"Some of this will be displacement, with jobs moving to Clifford Bay, but many of Picton's tourism and retail jobs will be wiped out."

The drop in population, coupled with unemployment and businesses losses, would have a direct effect on Picton's schools and social services, he said.

Mr Sowman said he wrote to Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee yesterday to ask for an independent and thorough assessment of the social and economic impact to Marlborough before the Government made a decision to shift the port.

"That's going to be another cost in this proposal but I am sure the Government, if it wants to proceed, will acknowledge its responsibility to look at all aspects of this project thoroughly."

Marlborough's ratepayers should not carry the cost of the planning and research for a national project, nor should they be expected to fund a study into the impacts they would face if the shift to Clifford Bay went ahead, Mr Sowman said.

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"If this goes ahead, there is a very big risk that Marlborough - even the whole top of the south - will become a regional cul de sac."

There was no doubt the project would bring some benefits, Mr Sowman said.

There would be construction investment and jobs on the Awatere side, and the positive aspects of reducing some of the heavy freight traffic through Blenheim.

But any new port-related jobs would be more than matched by losses elsewhere, particularly in the tourism industry, he said.

The loss of a chunk of Port Marlborough's dividend would be a blow to ratepayers, diminishing an important revenue source for the region as well.

"If the Government does decide it is in the national interest to go ahead with the move to Clifford Bay, we cannot afford to have central government pushing costs on to our ratepayers, either for the project itself or for the planning in the run up to it."

Mr Davy has organised a meeting between Mr Sowman, Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio, and Tasman district Mayor Richard Kempthorne to discuss the implications of the move for the region.

- The Marlborough Express

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