Toll road project gains momentum

GRANT BRYANT IN QUEENSTOWN
Last updated 05:00 07/12/2013

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Light has suddenly been shed on the multinational but Kiwi-connected backers of the $220 million, 127-kilometre proposed Haast-Hollyford toll road, as the long-mooted project gathers momentum.

Haast-Hollyford Road Development Group chairman Durham Havill revealed the big-money backers as the JCP Group - an Australian-based advisory firm with massive infrastructure projects in China, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Israel, Europe, Africa and North America.

Highways, airports, railways, hydro-electric dams, power plants, mining and telecoms are all part of the JCP portfolio.

JCP partner James Wong arrived on the West Coast last week to meet Mr Havill, former Westland mayor Maureen Pugh and the construction company attached to the project, Christchurch firm Blakely Construction Ltd.

Mr Wong is Beijing-based, but a New Zealand citizen. A group including Mr Wong, representatives of Chinese heavy engineering firm Bexin Road and Bridge and Blakely Construction's managing director, Woody Blakely, carried out route mapping of the proposed road using a helicopter-mounted camera and GPS on November 28.

The mapping work was required to set up a further contingent of American and Chinese-based engineers who will arrive to collate preliminary reports for resource consent applications by the end of January.

The idea for a road was first floated by West Coasters in the 1860s. The new version - a private toll road - would open up a new route to Milford Sound through previously inaccessible land, and cleave up to five hours and 355km off the existing route from Haast. The current trip from Haast is a 483km, meandering inland journey through Wanaka, Queenstown and Te Anau.

Mr Havill, a former Westland mayor, was adamant the toll road would open up vast economic opportunity - without huge environmental sacrifice.

"This project will do more for investment and development on the West Coast and in Southland on a long term basis than any other project I know of," he said.

"It is another step in continuing to grow the West Coast as a premier tourism product for New Zealand . . .

"It's a completely new product for the South Island that will benefit the tourism industry and provide a product for the increasing numbers that are coming from China, Indonesia and India.

"It has a real benefit in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It creates a conservation journey, a requirement of the Conservation Act, and it allows access for the average New Zealander to this world heritage area."

Support for the road had been strong on the coast, with a string of recent public meetings being packed with "pro-roaders". At a meeting in Hokitika on Wednesday, a vote was called that returned a 170 "for" and four "against" ratio, Mr Havill said.

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More meetings will be held in Greymouth on Tuesday and Franz Josef on Thursday.

"This road is logical and it's important to the people of the South Island. We have the contractors, we have the investors and we await the Government," Mr Havill said. grant.bryant@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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