18 Jul 2013

Monorail backers happy tunnel is no more

10:31 pm on 18 July 2013

The people behind a multi-million dollar Fiordland monorail say their project stands a greater chance of success, now that plans for a tunnel to the same destination have been shelved.

Riverstone Holdings wants to build the 41km monorail through the Snowdon Conservation Area. Conservation Minister Nick Smith will decide whether to allow the proposal within the next few months.

Dr Smith has declined Milford Dart Limited's application to build an 11.3km bus tunnel beneath parts of Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National parks, saying the environmental impacts are significant and beyond what is appropriate in two of New Zealand's most spectacular national parks and a designated World Heritage Area.

Riverstone Holdings chief executive Bob Robertson is buoyed by the decision to turn down the tunnel and says the lack of competition for opening up a faster tourist route will swing the minister in his favour.

He says the monorail scheme does not have to jump through the same legal hoops as the tunnel, because the project is outside any national park.

Mr Robertson says while the scheme is on conservation land, it will not affect the World Heritage status of Te Wahipounamu, because the area already includes towns, roads and other infrastructure.

"It covers a massive area. It's already got several towns in it from Fox Glacier; it's got Franz Josef; it's got Haast; it's got a lot of infrastructure; it's got roads and everything else through there; and monorails in the World Heritage area is not outside the charter. It will not affect the status at all."