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Fiordland monorail plan opponents gather signatures

By Calida Smylie

An artist's impression of the proposed monorail.
An artist's impression of the proposed monorail.

Backers of the $170 million Fiordland monorail say the plan has public support - but a petition opposing the scheme has collected almost 20,000 signatures.

The proposed 41 km monorail would link Queenstown and Fiordland National Park.

Its backer, multi-millionaire property developer Bob Robertson, said it would bring in 20,000 extra tourists to New Zealand and create hundreds of jobs.

But opponents of the plan, which would see the rail pass through 29.5 km of the Department of Conservation's Snowdon Forest, say destruction wreaked on the World Heritage Area will far outweigh any tourism benefits.

Southland District mayor Frana Cardno and Save Fiordland chairman Bill Jarvie presented the details of two petitions opposing the monorail plans to Deputy Prime Minister and Clutha-Southland MP Bill English in Wellington on Thursday.

They will formally present Mr English the petition sometime in the next couple of weeks while he is back in Southland.

There are more than 11,000 signatures on the hard-copy petition and more than 7000 on an online version but the signatures are still rolling in, said Ms Cardno.

"People are realising its a World Heritage Area and it needs to stay that way,'' she said.

"It's pointing out to the minister there's a lot of New Zealanders - who've signed the petition from around New Zealand and the world - who think our wilderness areas are very precious.

"There are very few places like this left in the world, that are accessible wilderness.''

A public opinion poll commissioned by Mr Robertson's Infinity Investment Group released today show a majority of those surveyed would support the monorail, as long as national park land was avoided.

The survey was carried out by Curia Market Research and polled 662 people. It found 58 per cent of New Zealanders supported development of the monorail outside of National Park land while 27 per cent opposed it.

The results showed more support than opposition regardless of gender, age or political leanings.

"The Fiordland Link Experience is designed to be a world-class tourism experience. It's really encouraging that the public recognises the significant benefits it will bring to New Zealand despite some misinformation spread by a small group of vocal opponents,'' Mr Robertson said in a statement.

A significant amount of work had been done with the route design and construction techniques to make sure environmental impact is minimal, he said.

"Our aim is to be a model of eco-friendly, sustainable tourism. We have refined our proposal during eight years of consultation with the Department of Conservation to ensure the route showcases scenery of great beauty without entering any wilderness areas or land classified as remote.''

The Fiordland Link Experience will be a $179, two-hour trip from Queenstown to Lake Te Anau on the fringe of the protected national park.

It will include a catamaran ride up Lake Wakatipu before an all-terrain vehicle ride through the back country Mt Nicholas station to a monorail station.

Visitors will then get on the silent monorail, based on one in Kuala Lumpur, and cut through 29 km of Department of Conservation beech forest which forms part of the Te Wahipounamu (South West New Zealand) World Heritage Area - with the rest on privately-owned farmland.

Mr Robertson has already sunk $5 million of his own cash into the proposal, which has been in the making for the past decade.

If the project gets approval, construction would be completed by 2017, he said.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith is expected to visit the area in November and make a decision on the proposal by early next year.

- APNZ

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