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Developer decries decision

The developer of the rejected Fiordland Link Experience monorail project is moving on, but isn’t convinced that he has heard the true reason for the decision against his development

Riverstone Holdings Limited director Bob Robertson said he was slighted more by Conservation Minister Nick Smith’s criticism of financial viability than he was by the rejection itself.

“I’m annoyed, not that he’s made a decision, I’m annoyed at what he’s announced to the market as to why he’s declined it, because it makes me look stupid.”

“After hearing him gloating away on the news that it wasn’t economically viable, I can only conclude that this guy hasn’t got the balls to come around and state the real reasons for this decision.”

Two independent reports into financial viability carried out by Insight Economics and Horwath HTL Limited recommended that the concession be granted subject to further market research.

With respect to the environment, a Department of Conservation commissioner had also recommended the concession be granted, and concurred with a panel of 12 experts that the environmental impact would be minor, Mr Robertson said.

“One of those experts, who investigated the bat population, spent 36 days on site,” he said. “DOC’s not a company that’s going to turn around and sell the environment short.”

“In the last minute we get a minister deciding ‘I’m going to call this in because I don’t trust the system that I make everyone work with’,” he said. “We passed the test that we were asked to pass by his department, and it took 10 years and $5 million to do that.”

Another five years could be spent fighting this but it would be a waste, and his company had other projects to continue, Mr Robertson said.

“I’m moving on. The real loser is of course Te Anau,” he said. “They’ll get the odd little thing here and there, but at the end of the day there’ll never be any opportunity like this monorail again.”

“Do you know how many people have the wherewithal to do something like this in this country? We’re the only company in the South Island that does half-a-billion-dollar developments,” he said. “To me this is a small loss in that sense, for New Zealand this could be one of the biggest.”

Marketing Te Anau as a destination was an ultimate goal of the project, with a view to building additional attractions in the town like a nature museum, Mr Robertson said.

“We wanted to sell it not as a ‘pee and a pie’ stop but as a place to come and visit, and stay, and see appropriately.”

The monorail would have stopped past the township at Te Anau Downs so that 500 people weren’t discharged at once, and so that local transport operators could still be involved, he said.

“The brightest and smartest of your commercial people might have understood it. The rest wouldn’t.”

The continued emphasis on the World Heritage Area was misleading, because the area covered a third of the South Island and was already filled with towns, roads, and service stations, he said.

“I want to save Fiordland too. We don’t touch Fiordland National Park. The whole campaign was very clever. It was all lies,but I commend them for their cleverness.”

University of Otago emeritus professor of conservation ecology and champion of the 1960’s Save Manapouri campaign Sir Alan Mark said there were parallels between that historic victory and the defeat of the monorail.

“The two were quite different issues in terms of the resources at stake,” he said. “But I think there was some similar sentiments, that Fiordland was being rolled by interests outside of Fiordland.”

“[Save Fiordland] was another campaign of showing that our natural resources are areas to be respected and cherished, and we only give them up for critical situations. The smelter wasn’t one, and neither was the success of the monorail,” Sir Mark said.

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