Whanganui District Council chief executive Kym Fell says Midwest Ferries needs to prove it has a viable business case before council commits any further resource to its proposed ferry service to the South Island.

Midwest Ferries launched the proposal in 2017, undertook initial feasibility studies and in May 2018 it signed a memorandum of understanding with the council.

The MoU stated the council supported Midwest Ferries "advancing its business case" but said the proposal needed "further clarification or investigation".

That MoU lapsed in November and Midwest Ferries director Neville Johnson told the Chronicle this week he hoped it would be renewed.

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"We're talking it through now and it should be renewed," he said.

But Fell said it would not be renewed until the company provided a range of information including "verification of the level of financial resource capable of funding the redevelopment of the Whanganui Port for an inter-island ferry service" and a "compelling business case" including "development costs and significant financial support from investor(s)".

Johnson is meeting with council staff on January 23.

Fell said Johnson had requested a six-month extension of the MoU but would "withhold any decision to extend the MoU until such time as Midwest Ferries provide the detail referred to [above]".

Fell said that was all he could say due to commercial sensitivities.

"However, the cost of the proposal in its current form would likely run into hundreds of millions of dollars and in my view, it would take a brave investor to bankroll an idea of this magnitude," he said.

But Johnson said he was bringing new information to the council this month and "would be surprised" if the MoU was not renewed.

Neville Johnson (left), the man behind the ferry proposal, and business analysts Nik Zangourpoulos and Warwick Walbran presented the initial feasibility study to councillors in 2017.
Neville Johnson (left), the man behind the ferry proposal, and business analysts Nik Zangourpoulos and Warwick Walbran presented the initial feasibility study to councillors in 2017.

Meanwhile, Midwest Ferries has now filed its 2017 annual return following a warning on the New Zealand Companies Office website which said it was "overdue in its obligation to file an annual return".

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"If the annual return is not filed immediately the Registrar will initiate action to remove the company from the register," it said.

The annual return was filed on Wednesday after the Chronicle raised the matter with Johnson.

In May 2017 Midwest Ferries presented a feasibility study to Whanganui district councillors which found a freight-only service between the two districts was technically and financially feasible and worth a detailed business plan based on a 180m ship carrying up to 70 trucks with one vessel sailing in each direction per day.

However, a peer review commissioned by the Whanganui District Council found it contained "an unusually large number of areas 'parked' for future study and some critical assumptions".