By Pam Graham
Jan. 22 (BusinessDesk) - Marlborough's mayor is hoping meetings early this year will shed light on why the government is seriously considering a $422 million ferry terminal at Clifford Bay which will knock the economy of Picton.
Marlborough District Council Mayor Alistair Sowman says a meeting he has on Thursday with Andrew Robertson, the management consultant running the Clifford Bay project will be an opportunity to find out more.
The council has also initiated public meetings in February and Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee will speak to the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce in March.
"People can't understand why the government wants to do it if it doesn't stack up economically what's the rationale? We're having trouble getting anyone to talk from the government," he said.
The government has assembled a team led by Treasury and transport officials to further investigate building an inter-island road and rail freight port at Clifford Bay in Marlborough. A report is due in the middle of this year and expressions of interest would be called for in 2014.
"I spoke to Gerry Brownlee myself just before Christmas and he was cagey and said wait for the report, " Mr Sowman said.
"I think they really are serious in seeing if it can work or not," he said.
Mr Sowman said the issue had stirred up business people and a lot of families in Picton, where the existing terminal is, were worried because they were reliant on the ferries for their income.
The council-owned Marlborough Port only received $7 million of income a year from the ferries, making the economic rationale for the new terminal hard to understand, he said.
The ministry team is also meeting Strait Shipping, which has said that a revival ferry services from Wellington to Lyttelton Port should be considered because 80 percent of freight goes to Christchurch and beyond.
Moving to Clifford Bay from the existing wharves at Picton could lead to larger ships, while cutting the journey time between Wellington and Christchurch by 80 minutes by ferry/road and 110 minutes by ferry/rail.
The government is considering making the project a private/public partnership, with companies including Infratil expressing interest.
The Clifford Bay project team is also talking to KiwiRail's Interislander and to ports.
Industry observers say Interislander boss Thomas Davies has always been keen on the Clifford Bay project and had been trying to revive it as an idea that could be funded from road transport budgets rather than rail budgets.
The Wellington Employers' Chamber of Commerce says the terminal would have economic benefits for Wellington.
Road Transport Forum boss Ken Shirley said there were serious constraints with the existing Picton service which were not going to change.