Ferry proposal points to 115 new jobs

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By Simon Waters

A proposed new inter-island ferry service between Whanganui and Motueka could create 115 new jobs and would be profitable in its first year, a feasibility study has found.

Neville Johnson of Midwest Ferries said a study of the multi-million dollar proposal was now complete and would be made available to the Whanganui Port Revitalisation team for its consideration.

Mr Johnson is confident the port revitalisation group will include the ferry proposal in plans to revamp the city port and to generate maximum commercial activity from the current port infrastructure.

He said consultants Nik Zangouropoulos and Warwick Walbran of Wellington had identified 115 new jobs if the ferry service was to get off the ground - 70 jobs in Whanganui and 45 in Motueka, plus several hundreds of job opportunities further on.

The study shows that the ferry service, with one ferry sailing each way once a day, would be profitable within its first year of operation, and it will cost in an excess of $50 million dollars to launch.

Mr Johnson is confident of attracting the required investors and says the project has attracted investment and ownership interest from several major New Zealand business already.

But public support is still required to help raise the now total of $160,000 to take the proposal to stage two of five to be completed by the end of July.

"We want to hugely thank the public of Whanganui for its generosity - we have raised $60,000 in six weeks - staggering stuff," Mr Johnson said.

Midwest has approached councils in Whanganui District and Tasman for support and await their confirmation of financial assistance.

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Individual donations received to date range between $10 and $10,000 - the latter from one private individual, also four amounts of $5000 each to date.

"There is incredible belief in this proposal. If we can make it work it will be one of the largest economic development opportunities for both regions."

Mr Johnson said the feasibility study predicted an increase of 150 per cent in tourist bed-nights with only one ferry daily each way in Whanganui. "The city can cope, but could need to build more motels as required".

He said a recent dredging plan put forward by a Whanganui engineer suggested it could be possible to achieve a port depth of 10.5 metres, making it as deep as Gisborne and opening up the possibility of accommodating logging and larger vessels in the future, which would be a Whanganui Port Limited operation.

The consultants have also revisited a possibly link with Nelson but they have ruled it out as an option, "reinforcing the case for a South Island link at Motueka."

Stage three of the development would include the appointment of a two to three year development board followed by investor funding and finally implementation.

"It is of prime importance that New Zealand has an alternative Interislander link as shown by the Kaikoura and Wellington disasters and Government recognising that our proposal would fit that purpose extremely well."

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