Business leaders want the government to hurry up and decide future transport arrangements for Cook Strait but fear Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee is diverted by the Christchurch rebuild.

The government is looking at building a new sea freight ferry terminal at Clifford Bay, south of Seddon, and it has some important decisions to make about ferries.

A new sea freight terminal at Clifford Bay could reduce ferry crossing-times by half an hour and cut the travel time to Christchurch by 50 minutes for road and 80 minutes for rail.

It would be a huge boost to the South Island economy but would cost in excess of $300 million.


Mainfreight managing director Don Braid said his company had committed to rail "by putting ourselves on rail land in Wellington", but services between Wellington and Christchurch were disappointing and better timing was needed.

"Rail is not working for us from Wellington to the South Island. It is a weak link," he said. "We've got a transport minister who is deflected by other issues and is not devoting any time to transport."

He didn't have a preference for a terminal location as long as the ferries remained rail capable, preserving the national rail system.

The "idiots" who ran Tranz Rail previously wanted to take rail tracks out of the ferries so wagons could no longer be loaded on them. "We were aghast," he said.

He sees a future for Picton in servicing passenger ferries.

"I do believe that Picton still has a role to play for tourism and you would run a passenger vessel from Wellington to Picton. For freight if they can make Clifford Bay work that is fine."

Those interested in partnering with the government on a terminal at Clifford Bay were expecting a decision in September.

In July 2011 an independent report found an economic case for the project. Brownlee was briefed on the issue on May 4, June 1 and August 30 and a draft business case has been prepared, he told the parliament.

The issue is a total headache for Port Marlborough which was forced to say in its annual report that the threat of Clifford Bay "casts a long shadow" over its operations.

"In the absence of any direction as to the government's intention, the impact on our ability to plan ahead with surety and to secure investment commitment for development projects has been substantial," chief executive Ian McNabb said.

There are existing resource consents for a ferry terminal at Clifford Bay.

The Clifford Bay terminal would better connect Christchurch with Wellington and Auckland and increase productivity in the South Island, the government has been advised.