Christchurch will be the big winner but Picton looks set to suffer if the interisland ferry terminal is moved south to Clifford Bay.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee yesterday announced a business case put to Cabinet for moving the terminal about 50 kilometres south of Picton warranted a closer look.
The project, he said, had the potential to "rewrite the transport map for the country" and allow Picton to become another Queenstown, free of a busy terminal on its waterfront.
A move to Clifford Bay, which could cost up to $422 million, could cut up to 80 minutes off a road-ferry trip between Wellington and Christchurch, and up to 110 minutes of a rail-ferry journey.
The project could be completed by 2020, Brownlee told The Press.
While Brownlee acknowledged a shift would hit Picton business, the potential national economic benefits were worth considering.
"It [Clifford Bay] has the potential to better accommodate future ferry transport needs when looking at some of the constraints that exist in Picton. We now need to have negotiations with operators and port."
Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said Christchurch would receive a major boost from the plan, but Picton business owners were worried.
"If there is an economic benefit [of a Clifford Bay ferry terminal] Christchurch will be the single biggest beneficiary of that for sure," Townsend said.
"It's going to make things a lot easier to do. There's going to be faster, cheaper, more efficient access [from the North Island]."
But Jules Terry, owner of Seabreeze Cafe in Picton, said losing the terminal entirely would be "devastating".
"If that's it, there's no more passengers, poor little Picton will suffer."
Picton Business Group chairman Graham Gosling said the case for moving the terminal to Clifford Bay "didn't stack up".
Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman said ongoing uncertainty over Picton was not acceptable to residents of the town.
"They want to move on one way or the other. Of course they would like the status quo but if it's going to move they want to know.
"It's been hanging over our heads for over a decade now."
Tranz Rail bought land at Clifford Bay in the 1990s, but plans came to nothing.
Picton would have to rebrand itself as a tourist destination if it lost the ferry terminal, Sowman said, and he had asked the Government for financial assistance.
"If you're going to take rail out of there it opens up quite a tract of land right by the waterfront. We'd be keen to talk to the owners of it . . . to secure that.
"I've certainly made that message clear [to the] Government [and] they haven't said no."
A regional development package, similar to the $100 million West Coasters got in 2000 when the Government ended native logging there, was "the type of thing Picton would be looking for", Sowman said.
Brownlee yesterday said Picton could become another Queenstown with its "intrinsic beauty".
Sowman agreed, but feared tourists from the North Island would bypass northern Marlborough.
"They're more likely to turn left and go to Christchurch than they are to right to come back up to Picton. So it's going to be quite a major adjustment.
"Over time I think Picton could rebrand itself. It could be a Queenstown-type focus."
Brownlee said the plan would be now be investigated by a specialist project team assembled by the Transport Ministry, the Treasury and the NZ Transport Agency.
The team will report back to the Government by April next year.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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