24 Feb 2013

Minister to decide on Fiordland tunnel and monorail

6:12 pm on 24 February 2013

Conservation Minister Nick Smith says he will personally decide whether two major projects in Fiordland National Park are given the go-ahead.

Dr Smith said the tunnel and monorail projects are so nationally significant only he can say whether they will proceed.

Companies are applying for concessions to build the proposed transport projects, and public hearings on both were held last year.

The concessions are held by the Department of Conservation but the minister said it was not approprate for a departmental official to make the decision.

A tunnel spokesperson Tom Elworthy says after seven years trying to push the tunnel forward, to have the minister take over the decision making represents significant progress.

Milford Dart Ltd is proposing an 11km tunnel under parts of the Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks which it said would cut four hours off the return trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound. The plan also includes 150 metres of road entry ways in the parks at either end of the bus-only tunnel.

Riverstone Holdings Ltd has applied for a 40-year concession from DoC to operate a 41km-long monorail starting at Kiwi Burn, passing through Snowdon Forest, crossing the Whitestone and Upukerora rivers and ending at Te Anau Downs on the Milford Road.

The minister said he will visit the area and meet the applicants and commissioners who heard the public submissions.

Dr Smith will then prepare a report which will be viewed by the applicants before a final decision is made.