Tempers flared at an Otago Regional Council (ORC) finance
committee meeting yesterday as councillors debated whether its
policies were clear enough for Port Otago's selling of its
leasehold land parcels.
Port Otago's widespread Dunedin land holdings have been a
bone of contention for decades, with businesses and
developers critical that not enough was on offer to promote
expansion, or any land was too expensive.
Port Otago yesterday delivered its three-year draft statement
of corporate intent to the finance and corporate committee of
the ORC, which is its 100% owner.
Councillor Gerry Eckhoff immediately kicked into the meeting
with claims the council should be adopting a more ''social''
aspect to its policies over the land sales, as opposed to a
corporate outlook, saying a developer said Port Otago's
''pricing was excessive'' for its land.
''This [ORC] is a publicly owned organisation, not a
corporate [operating] for a bunch of shareholders.
''We need to drive down the costs of businesses
establishing,'' he said of Port Otago selling more land.
At question in the corporate statement was Port Otago:
''Consider any sales opportunities of Dunedin leasehold land,
particularly where any sale advances economic development
within Dunedin city''.
Mr Eckhoff, saying the council had ''studiously ignored''
public perceptions on the issue, was clearly outgunned by the
majority of councillors, other than gaining passing support
from councillor Doug Brown.
Mr Brown addressed ORC chairman Steven Woodhead's assertion
that land restrictions in wider Dunedin were ''just a myth'',
saying: ''Lets be clear, there is a shortage of [commercial]
Mr Woodhead: ''I'm not comfortable with Mr Eckhoff trying to
push a social aspect on to Port Otago.''
Mr Eckhoff criticised councillor Louise Croot, labelling her
observations ''inane remarks'', which earned a rebuke from
finance chairman David Shepherd to ''simmer down'', following
a call for a point of order.
Port Otago chief executive Geoff Plunket was briefly drawn
into the discussion, saying Port Otago had since 1998 sold
off ''more than one-third'' of its leasehold land around
After the meeting, Mr Plunket said about 50% of the portfolio
was now Dunedin property, while subsequent reinvestments in
Auckland and Hamilton had seen the land portfolio value grow
from from $35 million to $250 million.
During the meeting Mr Shepherd said Port Otago had ''declared
its land being for sale'' and ''you can't ask for more'',
while councillor Sam Neill said: ''We have a policy'' in
Councillor Doug Brown said Port Otago should be ''left to
operate on a hands-off basis''. Councillor Michael Deaker
described the phrase ''consider any sales opportunities'' as
Councillor Trevor Kempton called for all to consider the
social-corporate balance, highlighting all ORC ratepayers
ultimately benefited from the land sales' dividend stream.
Mr Eckhoff said ORC policy had to be openly debated.
Mr Woodhead said, concerning a ''fair price'' for Port Otago
land sales, there was a ''perception'' across Otago that if
the ORC was involved in selling an asset it ''should be a
''Port Otago should stick to its fundamental activities,
based on the commercial model ... it's a near perfect
model,'' he said.