Antarctica New Zealand proposes smaller redevelopment of base

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Antarctica New Zealand has come up with a new, smaller proposal for the redevelopment of the country's base in Antarctica, the government institute said on Thursday, after a previous plan was paused due to a budget blow out.

Antarctica New Zealand, which manages the country's interests in Antarctica and the Ross Sea, said in a statement it planned to build new accommodation and living quarters using small modular construction, and would ditch the previously proposed design using large modules.

It also plans to refurbish the Hillary Field Centre, which is used by scientists working on the continent.

"Antarctica New Zealand's new plan is not starting from scratch as a lot of the design work can be translated from large to small module construction. Our goal is to turn the key in the 2028/29 season," said Antarctica New Zealand Chief Executive Sarah Williamson.

The institute did not release any costs for the new plan.

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 its military with better surveillance capabilities.

In 2019, New Zealand unveiled its intentions to revamp the decades-old Antarctica base but projected costs surged by more than 50%, prompting the new government to ask Antarctica New Zealand to pause and reassess the original proposal.

Antarctica New Zealand said the new plan has the support of Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who in December told parliament that revamping the base was in the nation's "strategic national interests". The plan still needs to be approved by government.

(Reporting by Lucy Craymer; editing by Miral Fahmy)