Hotel plan decision to be delayed

The developers pushing to build a $100 million waterfront hotel in Dunedin have suggested a new deadline to decide their next move.

Betterways Advisory Ltd, which wants to build the five-star hotel at 41 Wharf St, has been engaged in behind-the-scenes talks since appealing a decision to decline resource consent last year.

Project developers Queenstown-based Jing Song and her husband Ping Cao, of China, had been expected to decide their next move after meeting Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull by the end of January.

However, the meeting had not taken place, and Betterways lawyer Phil Page yesterday suggested the company might wait until March before announcing how it would proceed.

Mr Page, in a memorandum to the Environment Court yesterday, said the developers hoped to report back to the court by March 28 about whether the hotel proposal would proceed.

The developers were still working with independent consultants to address the ''key issue'' of connection between the proposed hotel and the central business district, he said.

However, that work was not complete, and Mr Page said it was ''pointless'' to present a plan to the court before that work on the proposed hotel's connection to the city's CBD had been done.

''There are many good reasons why much of the ... work since lodging the appeal cannot be in the public realm. The project is of tremendous importance to Dunedin, whichever `camp' a party is in.

''If the appellant is required to focus on preparing evidence for the appeal now, it will have to abandon its examination of potentially valuable alternatives ... This is one of those cases in which haste might be later regretted.''

Mr Page yesterday said the proposal had not been accepted by the court, which would have to consult other parties.

If it was accepted, the timetable would allow Betterways more time to complete work continuing behind the scenes, the details of which could not yet be made public, he said.

''There are a few things we need to do in order to know what steps to take next.''

However, any decision not to proceed with the existing proposal might not be the end of the project, Mr Page said.

''There are other options to consider but that's for Jing and Ping to decide what they want to do,'' he said.

- chris.morris@odt.co.nz

- This article originally said Environment Court mediation had started. It has now been changed to reflect the fact that mediation is yet to start.

State of play on appeal

There was a two-page minute from Judge Jackson circulated to the parties on 16 January 2014. Paraphrasing, it relays that the appeal proceeding having been on hold for six months had given the appellant, Betterways Advisory Ltd, time to carry out work to respond to matters raised in the council decision; and have something useful for discussion at mediation. The judge directed the appellant to file a status report by 31 January 2014 advising whether the proceeding was ready for mediation, or setting out a proposed timetable for exchange of evidence to progress the appeal towards a hearing. (my emphasis)

From the 'Memorandum of Counsel for the Appellant as to Progress' received 31 January, we learn the appellant is seeking an extention of time to Friday 28 March 2014, to report to the Court and the parties on "whether the application is to proceed".

This article says: Betterways Advisory Ltd, which wants to build the five-star hotel at 41 Wharf St, has been engaged in Environment Court mediation and behind-the-scenes talks since appealing a decision to decline resource consent last year.

This isn't correct. As yet, no Court-ordered mediation process has been in play for ENV-2013-CHC-73.

Editor- The article has now been corrected

Parties to the appeal have little or no knowledge of what shape "behind-the-scenes talks" are taking between the appellant and independent consultants; and the respondent, Dunedin City Council. It's very true the appellant remains well outside the public realm in exploring options of whether to push their existing case for highrise apartments and a hotel at 41 Wharf St; take another crack at Dunedin's cultural heritage landscape with, say, a new application or a private plan change involving 41 Wharf St and other site(s); or abandon Dunedin altogether for fresher fields.

Meanwhile, the mayor inadvertently provokes public perception of conflicts of interest through what appears to be political involvement in this resource management matter - through media comments that extend from public launch of the 'hotel vision' in May 2012 to the resource consent hearings and the city council's offer of independent planning advice to the developers following the resource consent decision, and all recent efforts to meet with the developers.

The Public's rights

I've always been pro hotel but statements like ''There are many good reasons why much of the ... work since
lodging the appeal cannot be in the public realm', dosn't inspire confidence any more than the government's plans to make oil drilling a 'non notifiable' activity. It was backdoor  decision making like this that led to the construction of our beleagured stadium and we had been promised more transperancy in the future by our Mayor and councillors.

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