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Smith right to take charge on Milford - PM

Monday 25 Feb 2013 10:58 a.m.

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Prime Minister John Key is keeping out of decisions about the future of two controversial tourism projects in national parks in Fiordland, but he's backing his Conservation Minister Nick Smith to make the final decision.

One proposal is to build an 11.3km single-lane tunnel to link the Routeburn and Hollyford roads in Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks.

The other is to build a monorail and all-terrain vehicle track to improve access to the scenic Milford Sound. Its promoters argue that the Milford Sound experience is tired, with tourists arriving on a convoy of buses at the same time, making the remote area appear congested.

Former Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson was criticised for dodging decisions on the controversial projects, instead delegating them to a Conservation Department manager.

Dr Smith, who took over the portfolio when Ms Wilkinson was dumped from cabinet in January, says it's not appropriate to delegate the decisions, given the scale of the projects and the huge public interest.

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

He expects to receive Department of Conservation reports on the Milford Dart Tunnel project soon, and advice is due on the Fiordland Link Experience in the next few months.

Mr Key says it "makes sense" for Dr Smith to assume responsibility for the decisions.

He said Ms Wilkinson had attempted to delegate it to "give it neutrality", but either way the Government would still be blamed.

"These are really big, crunchy decisions down there in Milford and in Fiordland so in the end I think it makes sense for Nick to be the decision-maker. He's obviously advised by the Department of Conservation and he will need to be transparent in his thought process," Mr Key told RadioLIVE.

He said he understands the logic of the proposals, which would cut the travel time from Queenstown, through Te Anau to Milford Sound, but he also accepts building a tunnel through a national park is "not insignificant" and risky.


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