Picton left out in the cold over ferry plan

GRAHAM GOSLING, PICTON BUSINESSMAN
Last updated 08:52 27/11/2012

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Picton was previously a freezing works town but with the closing of the works in 1983 the economic lifeblood of the town quickly became the Interislander ferry operations.

The first roll-on, roll-off vessel arrived in 1963. Now, with more than 1 million passengers, 300,000 motor vehicles, 2.5 million lane metres of freight carried on 3500 ship visits a year, Picton has become a busy ferry town.

Hotels, motels, B&Bs and motor camps have increased to cater for the travelling public, and restaurants, cafes, gift shops, jewellers and book stores have gradually replaced the traditional clothing and footwear stores.

Blenheim, 25 minutes' drive south, has become the service town with all the traditional related outlets.

More than 100 Picton families are directly involved with serving the ferry operations. This includes staff employed by Strait Shipping (Bluebridge), Interislander and Port Marlborough. There are rental car staff, provedores, electricians and maintenance engineers. Few would remain living in Picton if work was a 50-minute commute away in Cliffords Bay.

Some people say Picton can become a destination in its own right without the ferries.

Picton and Waikawa are already summertime destinations, along with the popular Marlborough Sounds' resorts such as Portage, Lochmara Lodge, Bay of Many Coves, Punga Cove and Furneaux Lodge. They are very busy in summer, but have low occupancy rates in winter when there is little entertainment to draw visitors.

The annual profile of passenger movements across Cook Strait shows that more than 70 per cent travel from November to April. Ferries sailing to Clifford Bay would also carry passengers, leaving little chance to maintain a viable passenger operation in and out of Picton. People could no longer travel directly to the Sounds and Picton from Wellington, limiting the tourist potential from the North Island.

The launch of Strait Shipping ferry services in the 1990s brought cheaper fares to travellers and more competitive rates to freight operators, in particular those carrying livestock.

Competition has brought more travellers, including many who book return fares.

It has been said on many occasions that the Marlborough Sounds is one of the top sea journeys in the world. We hope the tourism minister is listening.

With the Interislander proposing new bigger ships, we hope that we do not lose true competition. And wouldn't running larger freight vessels directly to Lyttelton be a better option in both economic and environmental terms?

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Port Marlborough New Zealand Limited (owned by the ratepayers of Marlborough) and Strait Shipping have co-operated with the Ministry of Transport by supplying all of the necessary information for a ferry terminal investigation.

To date neither have received the report, due to the commercially-sensitive information it contains. Yet KiwiRail and Interislander have had access to the sensitive information Bluebridge and Port Marlborough supplied. No Cabinet minister or the tourism minister have been prepared to front up to the Picton Business Group or the Picton community to discuss our future.

What has the Government got to hide?

Picton is not opposed to progress "for the good of the country" (whatever that really means). However, the cost of sacrificing Picton just to get freight across the Strait a bit quicker is too high.

- The Marlborough Express

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