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September 2012 Issue
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Local communities need their voice heard

Port Gore, which may soon be set aside for salmon farming. Photo: Karen Marchant

I’m no anti-development greenie, but I do tend to form strong opinions on issues where business comes along and tries to make hay from the conservation estate or other publically owned lands and waterways with little apparent concern for the impacts their project may have on the local community or on those who choose to recreate in the area affected.

We’re seeing two such proposals in Fiordland right now, both of which promise millions of dollars in investment and downstream benefits simply by decreasing the time it takes to get from Queenstown to Milford. Both projects are backed by ‘out-of-towners’. One, promoted by Oamaru-registered Fiordland Link Ltd requires a monorail to be built through Snowdon Forest. The second proposal is backed by investors from Christchurch and would see a tunnel constructed beneath the mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park.

Not long ago I interviewed Te Anau and Glenorchy residents fighting the proposals. The projects threaten local economies and businesses by taking tourists off the road and onto busses or monorails. Daphne Taylor, spokesperson for Save Fiordland, told me Te Anau residents feared for their town’s future and for the natural environment that made the area so special. Both projects could easily jeopardise the area’s World Heritage Status, she said. She also raised doubts about who would finance the projects, saying that no-one “expects either proposal to be built by the proposers”. Once the concessions are granted, she theorised, they would be on-sold to wealthy, most likely overseas, investors. It’s called concession-farming (head to and look up the story on Crystal Valley to see a perfect example of how it works) and it would be a travesty – not to mention a kick in the guts to the Te Anau and Glenorchy residents – if these concessions were granted and then on-sold to others with even fewer links to the local communities affected.

Another development proposal currently with the Minister of Conservation revolves around salmon farming in the Marlborough Sounds. Mark Banham writes about this issue on p32, but the gist of the issue is this: New Zealand King Salmon, majority owned by a Malaysian multi-national corporation, wants to build nine salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds. Eight of these farms will be in areas where marine farming is currently prohibited by the Marlborough Sounds Council’s Resource Management Plan. You’d think that would make the areas safe from unwanted development, but the Government looks set to overrule the council’s management plan and allow the farms to be built – despite strong opposition from the local community which values the Sounds as a natural and recreational asset.

Once again, out of towners are coming to a region with big bucks and big ideas that threaten the way of life of local communities.

New Zealand once boasted of being 100% Pure. That claim is the main reason we have a very lucrative tourism industry that provides a livelihood for thousands of small businesses and communities the length of the country. The undeveloped nature of our mountain and wilderness areas is also our unique selling point – European tourists can monorail and tunnel themselves all over their own continent; they can eat farmed salmon in any number of restaurants. But they can’t easily get a truly remote wilderness experience like that offered in New Zealand. We have to wonder if we’re throwing away our brand for a few measly dollars.

Local communities threatened by any development must have their voice heard – whether for or against – when such landscape and livelihood altering developments are proposed. They are the ones that have to live with the results of any decisions.