Local Democracy Reporting / Transport

Concerns come out as council hears submissions on ferry precinct loan

18:02 pm on 22 February 2022

Traffic woes and dead tuatara are among the concerns residents have about Picton's ferry precinct development.

Picton ferry terminal. Photo: LDR / STUFF

The concerns were raised during consultation hearings on whether the Marlborough District Council should raise a $110m loan to finance Port Marlborough's share of the ferry precinct redevelopment.

Seven people spoke on their submissions during hearings last Thursday. Former councillor David Dew, who thinks the loan needs a Crown guarantee, is expected to speak this Thursday.

Tim Healey, on behalf of the Guardians of the Sounds, was supposed to speak last week but did not make it. The Guardians of the Sounds did not support the council's proposal.

The group's submission said they believed the project "did not qualify" to be selected as "shovel ready".

"The main point being that the planning, considerations, and effect studies of this major development were glaringly incomplete at the time," the submission said.

The submission also had concerns about the proposed ferry route through Tory Channel, citing navigational safety, and the proposed traffic management in Picton.

They also believed borrowing money to on-loan to Port Marlborough potentially exposed Marlborough ratepayers to liability for that debt, and the current government could not "be trusted" to honour their commitments.

EcoWorld Aquarium owner John Reuhman. Photo: STUFF / BRYAN INGRAM

Meanwhile, one of the presenters at the hearings on Thursday was EcoWorld Aquarium and Picton Cinema owner John Reuhman, who is continuing to trade "business as usual" despite having an expired lease.

Reuhman leases a property on the Picton foreshore from Port Marlborough. He had previously said he would continue to operate on the site for as long as High Court proceedings were ongoing, following claims he had a right to renew the lease.

During his submission, Reuhman asked councillors where the benefits were shown for the proposed loan.

"Where are the controls and mitigation plans, where is the evidence? How have you as council, conclusively proved to us about the benefits of the loan, and the development?" he said.

Reuhman then went on to claim councillors had already approved the loan "in principle" at a workshop with Port Marlborough on 8 November, last year.

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett interrupted Reuhman, to make it "very clear" there had not been any final decision made.

"I can tell you now, I take these processes very seriously. Let's be really clear about that, and I'm sure I speak for the councillors," Leggett said.

Reuhman then went on to say residents needed to be "kept informed" and needed a construction management plan.

"The demolition and earthworks are hugely substantial... it is a massive project, and it's the biggest this region has ever seen.

"There will be times through demolition and earthworks, those of us who are facing towards the visitor economy and retail, will just have to close down for those days."

He said the piling work would be "hugely detrimental".

He claimed the hull of a historic ship on the foreshore, the Edwin Fox, would "collapse", his cinema equipment would be destroyed and his tuatara would die, "probably within the first two or three weeks".

Leggett "reluctantly" stopped Reuhman in his submission presentation, and asked him to "get back to the topic".

"You're coming up with all these statements that quite seriously have no foundation," Leggett said.

Like many submitters, Reuhman was also concerned about the increased traffic to the town.

The Picton Ferry terminal. Photo: STUFF / Scott Hammond

Traffic concerns had been addressed by Waka Kotahi throughout the consultation process - with presentations made by Marlborough Roads senior transport planner Laura Skilton.

Skilton said there was a projected natural increase in passenger numbers on the Interislander by 2029. To cope with this, Bluebridge vehicles would remain using its present location, but all vehicles using the Interislander would use Kent St.

Foot passengers to the Interislander would continue to use Auckland St, as would rental vehicles.

"Cars from the ferry visiting town will do so via Dublin St, and peak periods, Auckland St will still continue to be used to ensure that turnaround times are maintained," Skilton said.

She said there were "several improvements" proposed to the road network.

This included a new overbridge at Dublin St, improvements to an existing roundabout at Kent St and Dublin St and the intersection at Kent St and Wairau Rd would be upgraded, potentially with a roundabout.

Footpath improvements were also planned for Kent St and Dublin St.

But one submitter, Tim McCaffrey, who spoke at the hearings, pointed out that fixing traffic in Picton would still create problems on State Highway 1 and in Blenheim - stating the highway needed a "big upgrade".

Under the proposal, the council would raise debt through its existing arrangements with the New Zealand Local Government Funding Agency (LGFA).

If Port Marlborough sought financing through private lending, the council estimated interest to be 1 percent to 1.5 percent higher, which would take longer to service the loan and lower future dividends to the council.

The Marlborough District Council will meet on 4 March to make its final decision on the financing proposal.

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