Conservation Minister will decide on tunnel

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Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith has announced he will take the final decision on the Milford Dart Tunnel and monorail.

The decision on the 11.3km bus tunnel through two national parks and the Fiordland monorail had been delegated to the Department of Conservation by Smith’s predecessor Kate Wilkinson.

“I have decided that given the scale of these Fiordland projects and the huge public interest it is not appropriate for these decisions to be delegated to a departmental official,” Smith says.

“These are public lands and it is proper that these decisions are made by a publicly-elected and accountable official.”

In a statement released today, Smith says he expects to receive the department’s reports in the next few months on the tunnel and Fiordland Link Experience.

The controversial $170 million proposed tunnel would run through Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks from Glenorchy, slashing journey times between Queenstown and Milford Sound.

“The decisions on the Milford Dart Tunnel and Fiordland Link Experience will be difficult,” Smith says.

“Parks and reserves are much loved areas of New Zealand set aside for conservation and recreation.

“There is a particularly high threshold for projects in our national parks. However, New Zealand also needs jobs and economic development.”

Two weeks ago Mountain Scene asked the Minister’s office whether he would re-take responsibility for the decision, after calls from Green MP Eugenie Sage.

Smith’s office passed the enquiry to the Department of Conservation, where a spokesman said the decision remained with their director general of operations Sue Cosford.

Smith says: “I have taken advice on ensuring a robust process.

“I will visit the affected areas and meet with the commissioners who heard the public submissions after I have received each departmental report.

“I also intend to meet with the applicants of each project and seek the advice of the New Zealand Conservation Authority before making a decision.

“I will be taking a careful and considered approach and I am very conscious of the importance of coming to a fair and balanced decision.”