17 May 2017

Stoush brewing over Whanganui Port redevelopment

5:57 am on 17 May 2017

A viable multi-million dollar redevelopment of Whanganui's Port is being stymied by a plan to introduce a ferry service to Motueka in Tasman, an investor says.

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The proposed site of the Midwest Ferries terminal. Photo: Supplied

The boat builder Q-West said Midwest Ferries was piggy-backing on a viable plan and risked scuttling attempts to get government funding.

Once a bustling hub, the Whanganui Port is now little more than a collection of sheds, and its three wharves are in need of some TLC.

The city bought the port back from a private owner about 10 years ago and had already invested $1.5 million in Wharf One, and mayor Hamish McDouall said he has further plans for the area.

"The proposal is to take the silos down and move one of our major industries, which is a boatbuilder, into the centre of the port and then you've also got an enhancement of the recreational boating ramp which is heavily used by boaties from the Manawatu, Whanganui and Ruapehu areas."

The government contributed $500,000 to the port revitalisation masterplan as part of its Accelerate 25 regional growth strategy.

It's expected to contribute about a third of the $10 million needed for the project, which hoped to group other land-based industries around Q-West and one other bigger business if it came to fruition.

The government contributed $500,000 to the port masterplan as part of its Accelerate 25 regional growth strategy.

The government contributed $500,000 to the port masterplan as part of its Accelerate 25 regional growth strategy. Photo: Supplied

The Midwest Ferries' proposal for a daily freight service between Whanganui and Motueka was not included in the plan, but Mr McDouall said it could be added if it proved its case.

Q-West owner Myles Fothergill said talk of a ferry service was an unnecessary distraction.

"Quite frankly it's clouding the whole port revitalisation programme and they are pushing to get the ferry proposal included in that and that's problematic because it's not a complete business plan they have or feasability study, it's only a partial one."

Mr Fothergill said without a sound business case the ferry proposal could do more harm than good.

"My concern, and I've been quite vocal about it, is that if that is not done properly, if that's done half-baked then the government and local council could look at this and effectively say 'well it's just not going to fly' and jeopardise the rest of it."

Myles Fothergill said the proposed 180m-long ferry would require fundamental changes to the course of the river and its entrance, and dredging out at sea.

Midwest Ferries promotor Neville Johnson & consultant Nik Zangouropoulos

Midwest Ferries promotor Neville Johnson & consultant Nik Zangouropoulos Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Whanganui businessman Neville Johnson set up Midwest Ferries, and he has been exploring the concept for about seven years.

He has got plans for a $55 million redevelopment of the port, with a freight service starting in three to four years' time, joined later by a passenger service.

Mr Johnson said it would be financially viable if berthage fees were waived. Dredging the infamous Whanganui bar did not faze him either.

"We have to dredge the bar down to seven metres at low tide, okay, and at that depth problems with the swell and the bar, which everybody keeps talking about, virtually disappear.

"It was dredged down to seven metres successfully back in 1990 so it is not as though we are just ... taking advice on this. It has been done before."

Mr Johnson said he was surprised to hear of Q-West's reservations.

"Well that's all news to me. I haven't heard anything like that before. I thought in the discussions I've had with Myles [Fothergill] we were getting on extremely well and looking at both our ventures that it could be accommodated quite well.

"We'll work around that no problem, I'm sure."

The Whanganui District Council was seeking further technical and environmental information from Midwest Ferries before its proposal is discussed again early next month.

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