U-turn on extra port charge

The Marlborough District Council has U-turned on extra port charges after cruise ship companies and their supporters said they would stop cruise ships coming to Picton.

Instead of charging cruise ships and logging ships extra to cover harbour safety funding, the council is looking to get the money from the port company.

The proposal to implement new charges was passed by the council's environment committee last month, but last week's full council meeting overturned that decision after fierce lobbying by cruise ship companies and their supporters. It was estimated the charges would work out to an extra $6000 for each cruise ship visit, about a dollar a passenger, or less than 50 cents a log for logging ships.

The charges were to pay for Marlborough Sounds safety work done by the harbourmaster's office, which was running a $300,000 deficit because the charges, originally planned to be implemented in 2009, were not put in place.

Port company chief executive Ian McNabb said yesterday he had not heard from the council about that proposal.

Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman said the council would normally ask people getting the benefit to pay.

"If we charge, particularly the cruise ship market, it could have the possibility not to have cruise ships in Picton. That would be a disaster."

He said the same message had come from the logging industry, that margins were tight and the charges would have a detrimental effect.

"It has been workshopped and I understand the decision councillors have made. In hindsight, I am not happy about going down the path of asking either industry to pay."

He proposed the council enter discussions with the port company to get it to pick up extra costs.

Councillors agreed with Mr Sowman, and voted to enter negotiations with the port company.

Environment committee chairman Peter Jerram said councillors had been "barraged" by lobbying. The council had a statutory responsibility to carry out the harbour safety duties and they needed to be funded.

Councillor Jamie Arbuckle agreed, and said he was disappointed by the change, as he felt the user should pay.

"It will go to the port company and at the end of the day, the ratepayer will pay through a reduced dividend."

The Marlborough Express