Locals welcome derailing of monorail

22:35, May 29 2014

The derailing of a controversial $240 million monorail project in Fiordland has been widely welcomed in the south.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith yesterday denied the Riverstone Holdings proposal.

The decision has been welcomed by the Southland District Council and most in the Te Anau community.

The company wanted to develop a tourist trip using a catamaran from Queenstown to Mt Nicholas Station, an all-terrain vehicle drive to Kiwi Burn near the Mavora Lanes, and then the monorail ride to Te Anau Downs.

But Smith said the proposal did not stack up either economically or environmentally.

"The independent tourism and financial analysis concluded it was not viable," he said.


"There would be a significant impact on the area's flora, fauna and natural heritage. The route is not sufficiently defined to properly assess the impacts."

Smith said that, if the rail was built and failed, it would have cost millions to remove it.

Southland Mayor Gary Tong said it was a bold decision, with the minister having to balance the economy and environment.

"I did have grave concerns about the economics of this project," Tong said.

"This decision is good news for sustainable tourism opportunities in the area, such as the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail and the project at Mt Nicholas."

The proposal had few benefits for the Te Anau community or Southland, he said.

Members of Save Fiordland, the group opposing the monorail, gathered in Te Anau and applauded the decision.

Chairman Bill Jarvie said the decision brought to an end two years of campaigning against a project that could never deliver on its promises.

The minister's decision reflected the very things the group were highlighting during the two years, he said. "The application was inadequate with too great a risk for the environment."

Former Southland mayor and vocal opponent of the monorail, Frana Cardno, was reportedly "over the moon".

A friend of Cardno told The Southland Times that she had phoned from the United States to express her delight.

"She was so excited and said everyone who fought to stop the monorail had worked so hard but it was great to get there in the end," the friend said.

Prominent Te Anau business owners Daniel Anderson and Geoff Thomson said the town could now move on, out from the shadow of the monorail.

Anderson, who owns the Ranch Cafe, Bar & Grill said that, with the possibility of Te Anau being bypassed by the monorail, investment in residential and business properties had stalled.

"There are lot of cheap sections in Te Anau that can now be bought up. This decision now gives Te Anau some real direction."

Distinction Hotels owner Thomson said the long wait and uncertainty had stifled development in Te Anau. "People were worried about their livelihoods and future," he said.

Forest & Bird Otago Southland field officer Sue Maturin said the announcement was "great news" for the World Heritage Area.

"The monorail plans were unrealistic from the beginning, as there is no way the applicant could have restored the old growth forest, tussock grasslands or wetlands the project would have destroyed," she said.

Riverstone Holdings director Bob Robertson said the minister's decision came as a surprise and was a tough pill to swallow.

The company had proven its commitment to the environment and believed Smith's claim the proposal was not economically viable was based on flawed reports.

"To have our application face constant delays and ultimately end up with a decision being made months out from a national election is incredibly disheartening," Robertson said.

"If this project can't be approved, given the stringent conditions agreed to, then the message being sent is that private business should shut the book on investing in any potential development on Conservation land."



Monorail concept linking Queenstown to Lake Te Anau developed


The plan was first announced after Wanaka-based Riverstone Holdings Ltd became involved December 2011.

Department of Conservation notified its intention to grant a 49-year concession to Riverstone Holdings Ltd for a monorail and a maintenance/cycle track to be constructed across 29.5km of wilderness that is managed by DOC.

DOC invites written submissions and objections to proposal to be submitted by February 27.

January 13, 2012

DOC extends the deadline for submitting on the Riverstone Holdings monorail concession applications to March 19.

March 19, 2012

Submissions close: 315 submissions received. 288 submissions oppose and 27 submissions supported the intention to grant the concession.

March 30, 2012

DOC announces public hearings for the Riverstone monorail concession application will begin on April 2.

April 2, 3, 16, 17, 2012

Public hearings held in Te Anau and Invercargill with about 80 submitters to be heard during four days of hearings.

October 31, 2013

DOC recommends the developers of the proposed $200 million Fiordland monorail be given provisional permission to clear a 29.5km-long, 6-metre-wide corridor through conservation land.

But Conservation Minister Nick Smith has the final say on whether the monorail should proceed.

December 20, 2013

Conservation Minister Nick Smith asks DOC to commission an independent financial viability report for the Fiordland monorail proposal being promoted by Riverstone Holdings Limited.

May 29, 2014

Conservation Minister Nick Smith gives the Fiordland monorail proposal the red light.

The Southland Times