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Proposed ferry offers more jobs, travel savings

December 22nd, 2016
[by David Armstrong]

The proposed Motueka to Whanganui ferry service would bring upward of 200 new jobs to Motueka, said the man behind the initiative.

Whanganui-based businessman Neville Johnson (pictured) addressed a meeting of about 35 Motueka residents last night, following an earlier meeting with local business people, detailing the work done so far in investigating the ferry plan.

His business, Midwest Ferry, wants to develop ferry terminals at the two towns that would allow dramatic time and cost savings for interisland trucking businesses between Christchurch and Auckland.

It would also provide a second interisland link enabling tourists and tour buses in particular to travel down one side of both islands and up the other side, completing a much more interesting visitor experience.

The 200 or more new jobs would be around the port operations and services, as well as extra shifts at the Talley's fish factory, and generally more people shopping while passing through Motueka on the way north or south.

Now that the idea is well fleshed out, he said the next step is for a professional feasibility study to be conducted by Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

If that study shows positive feasibility, further marine engineering work will be undertaken along with investigations into effects on marine biology.

If they also produce satisfactory results, the resource consent process will be initiated. At best, this would take two years to reach.

Several in the audience questioned the sequence of these steps, suggesting that if something unacceptable is found in the detailed engineering process then the feasibility study, which will largely centre around the economic viability, will have been a waste of time.

Neville said it's a matter of "which goes first, the cart or the horse?", and he believed the economic viability must first be proved.

His own investigations, which indicate that he has done a great deal of homework on the proposal over the past six years, showed a five-hour saving of time for the Auckland - Christchurch run, and therefore for most North and South Island locations as well (apart from Marlborough, Wellington, Horowhenua and Wairarapa.

He said delivering fish from Talley's to Auckland via the Picton ferry currently takes 18 hours and three drivers, whereas using the proposed Motueka to Whanganui route would take 11 hours and one driver.

This would not only save Talley's lots of transport costs but also allow it to keep the Motueka factory open well into the afternoon, allowing more local work shifts.

Neville said talks with the Whanganui Council over changes to the airport have been difficult but are making ground. He intends to meet with TDC in January or February to talk about the Motueka end of the service.

He has had several useful meetings with Andrew Talley, who he said likes the idea but emphasises that they won't put any money into it.

A key aspect of the plan is the need to dredge sand and silt at both ports to a low-tide depth of 7 metres. This will be expensive initially, he said, but once done is expected to cost around $600,000 to $1 million per year to maintain.

Midwest Ferry will buy or lease its own dredging barge. At the Motueka end, the material dredged out will be deposited within the Moutere Inlet to reclaim land for the terminal wharves and vehicle parking.

The plan at present is for the wharves to be built directly west of the inlet opening, with vehicle parking on reclaimed land between the terminal and State Highway 60. Marina users will still be able to easily access their own berths.

Several residents of Jacketts Island questioned the potential for damage due to the wake of the ferries and displacement waves ahead of the vessels. Neville said issues such as these will be examined carefully in the engineering studies.

Addressing a question often asked, he said Nelson's port could not be used for this operation because there is no space for vehicle parking and the port area cannot be extended.

He said that Nelson would also charge a high berthage rate, whereas in Motueka there would be no berthage fee. However, Midwest Ferry would have to pay for all the new infrastructure at each end.

"Having no berthage charge at Motueka means that the service will run profitably once it gets going," he said. The plan is for the facilities and operation to be paid for fully by revenue from users.

He will be looking for either several private owners or a consortium of businesses such as transport operators to own the infrastructure. He will also most likely lease the ferries.

Up to three types of ferries could be used - a fast one running at about 30 knots and taking about four hours, a conventional ferry taking six hours, and a slow ferry taking 10 hours. The last one would be popular with car drivers who could sleep during the trip.

If all goes well, he said, there may be three or four passages running per day within perhaps three years, based on the interest already shown by trucking and tour operators.

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