Developers pleased Smith will decide

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 27/02/2013

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Developers behind two separate multimillion-dollar proposals centred on alternative access to Milford Sound say they are glad the decisions will be in the hands of conservation minister Nick Smith.

Dr Smith announced on Sunday he would decide whether the Milford-Dart Tunnel and Fiordland Link Experience projects would go ahead. Both would pass through Department of Conservation land and need consent.

Under previous minister Kate Wilkinson the concession applications had been delegated to the department.

Dr Smith's announcement was welcomed by both Milford-Dart Ltd managing director Tom Elworthy and Riverstone Holdings chairman Bob Robertson.

Mr Elworthy said he expected the minister would move quite quickly.

"I think it's a positive step. Everyone else has been involved in the process for so long it has been hard to keep their heads clear and I think the minister will bring a sense of clarity to the process," he said.

Mr Elworthy said he believed Dr Smith understood the need to balance conservation with developing tourism opportunities.

"If we get clearance to build the tunnel, we'll only be cutting down half-a-hectare of trees," he said.

Riverstone Holdings needs consent from the Government to build part of a 41km monorail ride for its Fiordland Link Experience through the DOC-protected Snowdon Conservation Area.

Mr Robertson said he supported Dr Smith's decision to take on responsibility for deciding on the proposals. He believed Dr Smith had common sense and would relook at all the facts without being persuaded by pressure groups "who have been putting out misleading information".

The monorail would be a low impact environmentally sensitive form of transport with economic benefits for Fiordland and its communities, he said.

Dr Smith said it was not appropriate for the decision to grant consent to the tunnel and monorail to be delegated to a department official.

Parks and reserves were much loved areas of New Zealand set aside for conservation and recreation, he said.

"There is a particularly high threshold for projects in our national parks. However, New Zealand also needs jobs and economic development."

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