Editorial: Whose was the one-track mind?

02:21, May 31 2014

The wrecked ambitions of the monorail proponents stand as testimony to the ardour and potency of the Fiordland's environmental gatekeepers.

This was always a project that evoked two visions. One was of a transport that would have made the rewards of Fiordland more accessible, and pleasurably so, for many more people. The economic benefits would be substantial and the whole shebang would be at no cost to the taxpayer.

But there weren't any 18,000-signature petitions in support of that scenario. The darker vision, of a dodgy carnival intrusion capable only of ecological debasement, human disappointment and financial collapse, was far more vivid. Or at least more widely shared.

Environment Minister Nick Smith has decided Riverstone Holdings' proposal didn't stack up economically or environmentally, so no consent for them. Like the Dart tunnel before it, another major potential development has been euthanised at ministerial level. The celebrations are widespread and sincere, all but drowning out the lament of Riverstone director Bob Robertson that New Zealand should be concerned. He's right if we accept that the "let's not find out" approach was applied in favour of achievable protections.

That's contestable, we grant you, but there's cause for unease that he may be.

Robertson's case is that answers were sought before their time. The minister's independent advisers had called the company proposal a very high-level sketch that largely circumvented key business issues. Robertson says economic viability could never truly be satisfied until the sort of highly detailed investigation that becomes worthwhile later in the process. Specifically, after consent is issued.

If that seems counter-intuitive, and clearly it does to many, the company's forlorn contention has been that the so-very-important protections, like economic viability, should have locked in as conditions of the consent. So, for example, the company could have been required to ensure, before any physical work began, that it was holding sufficient funds in trust for its removal.

A successful monorail has officially been deemed implausible. We will not really know if it really was achievable.


The Southland Times