Milford monorail developer optimistic now competitor axed

The overland monorail tunnel project to take tourists to Milford Sound is more likely to proceed now that the main opposition, the proposed Milford Dart tunnel option, has been declined by Conservation Minister Nick Smith, says the $175 million alternative’s backer.

“The tunnel would be competition,” said Bob Robertson, chairman of Infinity Investment Group, which is backing the above ground alternative, the Fiordland Experience. “The best way to get nothing done would be to approve them both,” he told BusinessDesk.

Smith is also considering the Fiordland Experience’s application to cross Department of Conservation land, but does not touch the more heavily protected Fiordland National Park. The concept involves a journey by catamaran, all-terrain vehicle and a 34 kilometre monorail from Queenstown to Te Anau. Tourists could choose to go on to Milford Sound, still arriving in half the time of the current 10 hour bus trip from Queenstown, for around 30 percent more than the cost of the bus.

While the Fiordland Experience “cuts through a corner” of the designated Fiordland World Heritage Area, the same area covers several towns, roads and other infrastructure, Roberston said.

The Fiordland Experience application is also being considered by Smith, with Robertson expecting a decision within two months, although Smith told his press conference where he announced the Milford Dart tunnel proposal would be declined that he had yet to receive advice on the alternative.

Smith stressed the Milford Dart proposal’s rejection could not be read as indicating support for Fiordland Experience, although he noted it does not pass through national parkland.

A combination of the tunnel’s impact on national parkland and concerns about the safety of the 11 kilometre underground route sank the project, which Smith said would have too much impact on the wilderness experience on the popular Routeburn Track.

With a capacity for up to one million passengers a year, the Fiordland Experience tour would then allow customers to go on from Te Anau to Milford Sound, still halving the 10 hour bus trip from Queenstown to Milford.

Robertson says his proposal has attracted interest from a specialist infrastructure fund and private equity funds and could ultimately be floated on the NZX, once developed.

The company has spent $5 million over eight years, including a six year consultation process with DoC about the best route for the proposed monorail, and would need to gain resource consents if Smith were to grant approval.

The project has sparked spirited local opposition.

Infinity Investment was behind the Pegasus Town development, which aimed to build a township within driving distance of Christchurch for 7,000 residents. The development was put into receivership last year, and ultimately bought by the Todd family’s property unit.

(BusinessDesk)

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