It was in September 2016 that local businessman Neville Johnson approached the Chronicle with his bold plan to start up a ferry service between Whanganui and Motueka.

The Chron splashed the story on page one; Midwest Ferries ambitious idea grabbed plenty of interest; Johnson appreciated the publicity.

There was plenty more initial publicity following that first story. But it has been more than a year now since any public progress reports.

In August 2017, Midwest Ferries announced it would have meetings with officials from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Transport Ministry "in the next two to three weeks".


No word on whether that took place.

At that same time it also promised a joint statement with Whanganui District Council on "work under way". Nothing yet.

We are assured work is going on behind the scenes, but there is no doubt the ferry has some rugged seas to traverse if it is to find a berth in reality.

The next step - detailed design, and engineering and environmental assessments - will be costly, with project director Nik Zangouropoulos suggesting the money will come from central or local government.

But his admission that the plan is "too uncertain" for private investment may have taxpayers and ratepayers wondering why they should take the gamble.

Midwest Ferries may have a memorandum of understanding with Whanganui District Council, but there is no commitment of council funding. An MoU is a friendship, not a marriage.

However, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones' Provincial Growth Fund would seem a potential target, particularly as part of Midwest's sales pitch is the national value of another Cook Strait crossing.

Another development this year has been a study - at a cost of $10,000 to council - on the possible operation of a roll on, roll off ferry at the Whanganui port.


The fish hook here is that - while feasible - it would need massive and consistent dredging of the river.

The Chronicle has revisited the ferry plan with a special report. See it here:

We approached Neville Johnson for comment. He refused to answer any of our many questions.

That is something he is perfectly entitled to do.

But as he has been given many thousands of dollars in public donations, and at least $10,000 of ratepayer funds, he may feel an obligation to give the Whanganui public an update some time soon.