$220m road to Milford Sound cuts 5 hours off travel

GRANT BRYANT IN QUEENSTOWN
Last updated 05:00 23/01/2013

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The proposed Haast-Hollyford road, earmarked to be built through Fiordland National Park, could be exempt from the Department of Conservation's strict concession process.

Westland District Property Ltd chairman Durham Havill said he believed land earmarked for the 127km road was classified as a road reserve when the new Department of Conservation incorporated the Department of Lands and Survey, the Forest Service and the Wildlife Service in 1987.

"We believe that land is classified as a roading reserve right through from start to finish," he said.

"And that it was excluded from being under the control of the concession process in 1987, and what we're waiting and hoping for is a resolution from the Southland District Council to allow us to build."

The $220 million privately funded toll road is planned to open up a new tourism route to Milford Sound, and cleave up to five hours off the current meandering 490km route south from Haast to Milford Sound, bypassing Wanaka, Queenstown and Te Anau.

If it goes ahead, the road will be built through Department of Conservation land in the Fiordland National Park and Te Waihipounamu World Heritage Area.

Usually any businesses which operate on department land have to do so under the conditions of a concession issued by the department, and any infrastructure work needs to be cleared as part of the concession.

The proposed $150 million Milford-Dart private bus tunnel, which backers are hoping to build beneath land in Mt Aspiring Park is currently in the process of applying for a concession, which triggered a series of public hearings in Te Anau and Queenstown last year.

Big businesses such as NZ Ski, and many smaller businesses operating on land controlled by the department also operate under the conditions of individual concessions.

Conservation Department senior communications adviser Reuben Williams yesterday said the department would not look into the matter until the road's backers approached them.

"This not something we would investigate until a formal approach has been made to DOC," he said.

Another senior department communications adviser said: "At this stage the department has not been formally approached by Westland District Council in regards to the proposal. As a result we are not in a position to comment on the legal status of the route and, once known, the department would need to confirm any underlying legal road or legal land status before it could consider any planning or permissions processes required."

Williams would not elaborate on whether the department would be powerless to stop the road, should Westland District Property's belief that they were free from concession restrictions prove correct.

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- The Southland Times

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