Clifford Bay step closer

19:43, Dec 18 2012
Jules Terry
Worried: Seabreeze Cafe owner Jules Terry walks along the foreshore in Picton yesterday, with an Interislander ferry in the background. He is one of the retailers in Picton concerned about how the town will cope if the ferry terminal is shifted to Clifford Bay, between Seddon and Ward.

The Government will appoint a specialist project team to do more work on the "strong" business case for moving the interisland port from Picton to Clifford Bay, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said yesterday.

This is the strongest indication yet that the Government is trying to stand up the proposal, which was floated in the 1970s and raised again 18 months ago.

Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman reacted to the latest step by saying the Marlborough District Council would push for a compensation package the same as the West Coast got when the Government shut down native timber logging there.

"That's a good parallel," he said. "There would be a need for some assistance. How do we help Picton and Marlborough to adapt?"

Mr Brownlee said Cabinet ministers believed the business case was strong enough to justify further testing the viability of moving the interisland port from Picton, south to Clifford Bay, between Seddon and Ward.

The project is estimated to cost $422 million.


"This decision could potentially rewrite the transport map for the country, and the Government is prepared to take the time required to make the right decision for New Zealand," he said.

Moving the port to Clifford Bay would cut out the ferry route through the Marlborough Sounds to Picton, which was longer and slower because of speed restriction in the Sounds.

The new port would also open the possibility of using larger ferries on Cook Strait, reduce travel time between Wellington and Christchurch by 80 minutes for road traffic and 110 minutes for rail traffic, as well as reducing fuel costs for road and rail transportation, rail and ferry maintenance costs and carbon emissions.

Mr Brownlee said a specialist project team of officials from the Transport Ministry, Treasury and the NZ Transport Agency, along with private sector experts, would report to him by May.

"I expect that assumptions in the business case will be rigorously tested with key stakeholders."

He acknowledged the impact the prolonged investigation was having on Marlborough businesses but said a lot of complex issues needed to be worked through.

Port Marlborough chief executive Ian McNabb said Mr Brownlee had been to see him in Picton on Wednesday, which he appreciated.

However, the company was no further ahead, with the uncertainty hanging over it. "It's just another report on another report to see what's going to happen."

The Government saw the benefits for the country but the issue was about the commercial benefits for any potential operator.

Port fees for both ferry companies were about $7 million a year, which was not a great return for a $422 million project.

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn said a decision on Clifford Bay would help Interislander plan the shape of its fleet and the way its business was structured to manage the growth in freight.

The decision had to be made sooner rather than later and Interislander, as a cornerstone customer, wanted to be involved in the design and commercial negotiations from an early stage, he said.

Strait Shipping managing director Sheryl Ellison said the company was uncertain about the proposal.

"We are extremely eager to understand the business case that has been presented to Cabinet."

Unlike their competitor - the government-owned Interislander - they had no idea of the basics such as indicative port fees and other costs.

"As a result we're not yet able to determine whether or not it would be feasible for Strait Shipping to go to Clifford Bay," she said.

"It is crucial that during the next six months of study, we are provided with the information we need to make the necessary business decisions."

Opposition leader David Shearer said in Blenheim yesterday that Labour would be interested to see what the Government came up with.

"Looking at this sort of option, it's totally different to the Roads of National Significance projects, which have very low benefit-cost ratios.

"The Government also needs to be mindful of the impact on Picton."


We asked people in Marlborough their thoughts on the idea of the ferry port moving to Clifford Bay after the Government yesterday gave its strongest indication yet that it backs the idea.

Patrick North, Chiller Transport and M.D. Freighting owner: It would definitely increase the cost for businesses of goods coming into Marlborough. The freight would have to be transported back up to Blenheim, so there would be an added cost to Blenheim.

Doug Robinson, Sundowner Motel co-owner, Blenheim: I think it would kill Picton. To take their ferries away from Picton would be a really backwards move for their businesses. Tourists would miss Blenheim and Picton out because there would be no point coming here just to pick up a wine area. They can pick up a wine area anywhere – Hawke's Bay or Otago – so we would miss a lot of tourists here.

Bruce Pattie, Marfells Beach Rd, farmer: I will believe it when I see it. From the national point of view it's certainly going to shorten the time between the two islands considerably, so that makes sense I guess. For us I can see a lot of hassle.

Sara Archdale, Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company director: I think the final decision could impact Blenheim, Picton, Nelson and down the West Coast. If it goes ahead there will be a huge decrease in all right-turning traffic [coming off the ferries]. Picton could have a very short [busy] season for at least 10 years after the ferries moved. Instead of October to April or May, it could be just December to March. It will never be the same, this town has evolved on the basis of through-traffic, good or bad, and if you cut that down by three-quarters things will be lost.

Trevor Hook, Marlborough District councillor and Te Mahia Bay Resort owner: People need the Government to make a decision because the issue has been hanging over our heads for too long. If it went ahead, there would be a change to the dynamics of the region. The most important things we need to know are if it's going to happen and what support central government will give. It will certainly have an impact in the short term, but in the long term Picton would develop into the destination it should be.

Ann Martin, owner of Mahana Lodge in Endeavour Inlet: I can't say I'm delighted about the idea, but I don't think it will be the disaster some people do. If it was put to a vote, I'd be against it. But we've all just got to get together, work hard and create strategy, and make it work for us. It will take a little more marketing and a little more effort on the part of tourism operators to draw them in.

And from our facebook page

Port viability further tested

Linda: Leave it in Picton, if they put it at Clifford Bay there will be no shops. It will take all the spending away from Picton. Who will pay? Govt are spending money while families are struggling to feed their families. This govt doesn't tighten their belts or take a pay cut.

Susan: Christchurch families still not with good housing. Hospital services suffering. Who has the endless pit of money to build a port? 

Darren: What a gorgeous place Picton would be without those train yards. Eco tourism to the max. And all the coastline/beaches in the Sounds could return to their natural state. While it would be a big change it would allow Picton to grow to its full potential and make the most of its very special location.

Susan: Picton ain't going to grow. At 2pm today only 6 cars parked in High St and the majority outside the doctors. Town has been very empty the last few days.bfAnge: nfNo to a new port! Who wants to get off a lovely ferry to sand hills and no shops? 

Christopher: If the aim is to bypass Picton and get stuff to Christchurch, why bother with Clifford Bay? Why not sail direct to Lyttelton? Take away the scenery, and flying is so much quicker and not much more expensive if you take advantage of regular promotions.bfJonno: nfSucks that it's not even financially viable to split freight and passenger ships.

Raewyn: What's the point. Let Picton be the destination. ntebfCarwyn:nf Government will do whatever generates them the quickest cashflow. They will not consider the long term economic consequences for the general Marlborough population. 

The Marlborough Express