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Howard’s End: Fight Ahead For West Coast Gondola

Environmentalists and tourism operators are on a collision course over two unrelated plans to build a tourist gondola link between Queenstown and Milford Sound and the opening of the Haast/Hollyford road linking the West Coast and Milford. The world is passing us by! John Howard writes.

Yesterday, Ngai Tahu Holdings and Skyline Enterprises Ltd, released a report for an $80 million proposal for a new road and gondola linking Queenstown and Milford Sound.

This new plan follows earlier announcements by West Coast local councils where they saw the opening of the Haast/Hollyford road as part of the final link of a long-planned tourist circuit route around the South Island which would generate substantial economic and social benefits for the entire West Coast.

The gondola proposal will traverse part of the world-heritage designated Fiordland National Park, while the Haast/Hollyford Rd proposal will run inside the western perimeter of a small part of the same world-heritage park.

And that's the rub for the environmentalists.

Forest and Bird's southern conservation officer, Sue Maturin, said the gondola would be a major new intrusion, and a highly visible structure in a sensitive landscape.

"We imagine there will be construction and service roads associated with it, and these are likely to bring problems of pests and weeds," she said.

In earlier media reports environmentalists had threatened a fight of greater magnitude than the stopping the logging of West Coast forests if the Haast/Hollyford Rd proposal went ahead.

But don't flying birds drop seeds from their backsides transferring all manner of things from one region to another - including weed seeds? How do we propose to stop that?

For years, environmental groups, to get their own way, have been pushing the line that tourism will be the "saviour of the West Coast" and, they say, that's why logging is no longer necessary to generate income - but it now seems the only type of tourism that will be allowed is the type they want.

Eyebrows were raised recently when, Kevin Smith, former conservation director of the Forest and Bird Society was appointed as a new senior advisor to Conservation Minister, Sandra Lee who, it is said, was also a former executive member of the Society.

Unfortunately, Forest and Bird are seen as ideological extremists by far too many New Zealanders and are often referred to on the West Coast as a stop growth movement.

There is certainly a perception around now that the chances of getting a fair and balanced hearing from Conservation Minister Sandra Lee, or the government, is almost zero.

That perception is reinforced by government's failure to pay compensation to West Coast sawmiller Westco Lagan when government announced it was stopping the South Westland rimu cut - the failure by the Environment and Local Government select-committee, chaired by Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimmons, to make any meaningful changes to the Forests (West Coast) Accord Bill - and with the stopping of a lawful resource consent hearing by government SOE Timberlands Ltd, when it withdrew its application before any scientific evidence could be heard.

Domestic and international readers of Scoop have described the governments actions to me in emails as "flaky" with one New Yorker asking rhetorically - "with such draconian rules why would you want to invest in NZ."

I've explained that the country went to an election on some of these issues. Having a policy of stopping logging is one thing - but then also trying to stop tourism growth and development in some areas as well is quite another, I was told.

Another from Auckland said, "all New Zealander's seem to want to do is kick each other in the teeth."

But other countries have managed to balance their environmental outcomes against economic and social growth.

For example, around the world there are 630 world heritage areas listed with 128 of them designated "natural."

Across the alphabet countries from Albania to Zimbabwe have world heritage sites with a majority used for tourism.

The Great Wall of China is a world-heritage site, as is the Tower of London. Then there are parks, reserves, cathedrals, mosques - even the City of Bath is a designated world-heritage site and last year they had four million visitors - with new development

Millions of tourists visit these sites each year, as they do in the highly environmentally sensitive Kakadu National Park at the top-end of Australia where, ironically, a new access road has just been built.

And what about the Everglades in Florida, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon National Park, Great Smokey Mountains National Park, the Great Barrier Reef, the whole of Fraser Island etc. etc. etc.

All have substantial numbers of tourists visiting them.

One of the criteria for listing as a world heritage area is "presentation."

Put simply these parks are not there for elitist's to use for their own personal enjoyment or ideology - they are for the citizens of the world to see, appreciate and enjoy.

If the general public people aren't able to see them presented in all their majesty then that can hardly meet the criteria for a world-heritage listing, nor can the travelling public truly understand what saving the environment means.

If the Haast/Hollyford road is to be built and there are tourist traffic concerns, why can't there be a no-stopping zone along parts of it like there is in the environmentally sensitive desert area between Utah and Colorado.

And exactly how much of the New Zealand land-mass is already designated national park or conservation estate?

I stand to be corrected, but some time ago I recall seeing figures that up to 30% of the the total land-mass of New Zealand is designated national park and conservation estate - with the United Nations, I believe, saying that anything much more than 10% is not sustainable - simply because it's next to impossible to properly look after it.

I am so concerned about the survival of the West Coast along with the direction this country is taking, that a few weeks ago I invited Green Party co-leader Rod Donald to visit the Coast. It's time we all started talking to each other rather than at each other. He hasn't replied.

It seems we are destined in New Zealand to be continually angry with each other with some Kiwi's doing all right while others are marginalised. Enough already!

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