Problem at the bottom of the Top of the Lake: Famed New Zealand film location at risk from tunnel plan


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The Independent Online

The latest big-budget television crime drama hit our screens last night in the form of BBC2's Top of the Lake, which features the haunting New Zealand scenery made famous by The Lord of the Rings film franchise.

But, in a twist worthy of the finest foreign noir, it now seems the stunning beauty spot at Glenorchy is at the centre of a conservation row. Glenorchy village, gateway to the 10,000sq mile site which has become such a popular destination for film crews, has been dragged into the bitter dispute over plans for a seven-mile tunnel, which would be New Zealand's longest.

Campaigners say the construction will theaten Te Wahipounamu (Maori for "the place of greenstone"), which is one of just two Unesco World Heritage Sites in the country and encompasses several national parks, forestry, fjords, waterfalls and lakes.

A local opposition group said the scheme risks damaging a delicate ecosystem. Ruth-Ann Anderson, a horse-trek guide, said she had serious concerns about a report by New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DoC) to the World Heritage Committee, which she claimed makes clear that the DoC has no idea what impact the tunnel will have on the region's "wow factor".

The Oscar-winning film-maker Jane Campion, a New Zealander herself, said she decided to set Top of the Lake in Glenorchy after spending time at a holiday retreat there.

Top of the Lake, which features the Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss, centres on the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old. Campion, 59, said: "It's a detective story that's very much influenced by the landscape around Glenorchy and explores ideas about paradise and community... The magnificence and scale of the landscape tend to dwarf any personal worries I might have."

The row has now drawn in the Prime Minister, John Key. He said any threat to World Heritage status would be taken into consideration, but added: "There are many applications down there... from the new highway, monorail and tunnel, so they are all factors that need to be considered."