New Zealand reassessing proposed overhaul of Antarctic base

By Thomson Reuters Feb 22, 2024 | 9:21 PM

By Lucy Craymer

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand is reassessing a proposed overhaul of its Antarctica base after negotiations with a construction firm reached a deadlock due to budget issues, the government agency responsible for the country’s Antarctic operations said on Friday.

Antarctica New Zealand said in a statement it was looking at other options, including revising the current design after it was unable to “reach agreement on commercial terms with Leighs Construction for the Scott Base redevelopment.”

In 2019, New Zealand unveiled its intentions to revamp the decades-old Antarctica base. Since then, projected costs have surged by more than 50%, prompting the new government that came into power in November to raise concerns about the current plan.

The National Party-led coalition government, however, remains committed to the project, with Foreign Minister Winston Peters in December telling parliament it was in the nation’s “strategic national interests”.

The Antarctic, due south of New Zealand and Australia, is increasingly crowded, with China opening its fifth research base there in February. Western governments are worried China’s increased presence in the Antarctic and Arctic could provide the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) better surveillance capabilities.

Antarctica New Zealand said in its statement it hoped a revised project plan will be agreed by May 2024.

On Thursday, Peters appointed two new members to Antarctica New Zealand’s board and said they’d been appointed to ensure the project was delivered in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

(Reporting by Lucy Craymer; Editing by Tom Hogue)