Hotel emails testify to updates

Jing Song.
Jing Song.
The Dunedin City Council was warned two weeks ago the developers behind a proposed $100 million waterfront hotel could walk away, because of mounting frustration at delays, emails released yesterday show.

However, the emails also confirmed council staff were in regular contact with Betterways Advisory Ltd's director, Steve Rodgers, and the company's consultant traffic engineer, offering updates and explaining delays.

The emails were released to the Otago Daily Times yesterday, following an official information request, after hotel developer Jing Song terminated a memorandum of understanding with the council on Monday.

She blamed the council for failing to provide a completed traffic report by a March 21 deadline, set as part of the agreement, and for offering no ''updates or explanations'' to explain the delays.

However, emails between March 10, when the two sides announced their agreement, and March 21 were swapped by council staff, its consultants and Andy Carr, of Carriageway Consultants, acting for Betterways.

The emails discussed details of a March 17 workshop, held to discuss solutions to traffic issues, as well as meeting minutes and a draft report that followed.

Then, on Friday, March 21 - the date a completed traffic report was due - council infrastructure and networks general manager Tony Avery emailed an update to all parties, including Mr Rodgers.

The update advised the March 17 workshop had been ''productive'', with three potential options identified to address traffic issues, but more work was needed and a final report was expected by March 25.

Mr Avery also acknowledged the report was due on March 21, but added: ''I think it has been generally accepted that we weren't going to meet that date.

''We are looking to progress things as quickly as possible though as it is important that we establish whether there is an acceptable traffic solution that will work for both [parties].

''Any questions, let me know.''

The following Monday, March 24, Mr Carr emailed

council workshop facilitator David Booth, of Octa Associates, warning Ms Song wanted an update.

''I can't really maintain silence until the end of the week without risking the professional relationship ... I will endeavour to be non-specific in the dialogue, as the alternative of saying that I'm not yet able to say anything will probably go down very badly!''

He was advised by Mr Booth to call Ms Song, despite a later email from Mr Rodgers - sent to Mr Avery on April 3 - confirming workshop discussions were confidential.

More emails followed, including an update on March 25, forwarded by council chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose to former Dunedin city councillor Syd Brown, who was acting as an adviser to Betterways.

''Please feel free to share this with Jing as a guide to timing,'' Dr Bidrose wrote to Mr Brown.

Then, at 9.12am on April 3, Mr Rodgers wrote back to Dr Bidrose, Mr Avery and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, expressing concern delays were continuing and calling for an update ''urgently''.

''I am very concerned that my clients will view this lack of response as the council not wanting to work with them and that they may walk away.''

Mr Avery, responding from his cellphone less than an hour later, said he was seeking an urgent update from the council's consultants, but questioned communication within Betterways.

''I'm assuming that you are receiving no information from your traffic expert [Mr Carr] who was part of the workshop and presumably is aware of what the traffic experts are working through?''Mr Rodgers replied at lunchtime that Betterways was receiving ''limited information'' from its consultant ''as he was told that until the [traffic] report was released it was confidential, thus the reason for chasing''.

On April 8, Mr Booth emailed a traffic issues update to Mr Avery, who forwarded it to Mr Rodgers and Mr Brown the same day.

Then, at lunchtime on Monday, April 14, Ms Song emailed Dr Bidrose, setting a 4pm deadline for a completed traffic report.

The letter expressed Ms Song's ''extreme disappointment'' the March 21 deadline had passed ''and no updates or explanations from council have been provided, despite our repeated chasing''.

Mr Avery emailed back at 1.26pm, forwarding her an earlier update and again explaining the delays and process.

''We had assumed that your expert would have kept you informed about the progress but clearly that hasn't happened.

''I can assure you that we are making every endeavour to proceed with the necessary work as quickly as possible.''

Then, at 4.50pm, Mr Rodgers replied: ''As Jing has heard nothing from you by 4pm as required by the letter sent earlier today she has instructed me that the MOU is at an end. She and [husband Ping Cao] will not be progressing with the hotel.''

Mr Avery replied at 5.33pm to Mr Rodgers, Ms Song and Mr Brown, saying the council was ''at a loss to understand the apparent problems in the Betterways communication channels that has given rise to this situation''.

''We are, as always willing to continue on with the MOU process.''

Not as it seems?

Having read this piece a number of times, making notes each time, I have this uneasy feeling that there is a level of disingenuousness either in the ODT's reporting, the DCC's need for confidentiality around the working party meetings or the performance of the Betterways advisors. Possibly there are other unrevealed factors.

As for the traffic issue itself, given the overall poor performance of the DCC to deal with a variety of traffic issues around the city upto the present I personally would not have held out much hope that the DCC would be able to reach a practical solution.

Access could have been provided by a one way style route entering from the overbridge end an exiting back toward the railway station end with no ability to croos traffic to head south. A southerly route could be achieved by looping back over the railway lines to the one way south or via the large roundabout 

There will be a hotel

I cannot believe that there won`t be a new hotel after the amount of money spent. It sounds like the lady is getting impatient and is putting the pressure on the Dunedin City Council. It now depends how the City Council will react. Time will tell.

Not an easy bit of road

Yes, Weka has it - remember we are talking about adding a vehicle entrance and an exit at the narrow spot with limited visibility under the over bridge on the heavy vehicle bypass between the port and the motorway south. Not a quiet bit of road, and likely impossible to access the road south without installing traffic lights.

Always traffic

Obviously you don't drive down that way very often - there is always a flow of traffic. I wonder if the Chinese downturn had an influence on the decission as I assume she is getting loans from there.

 

Thank you for getting the facts

".....the emails also confirmed council staff were in regular contact with Betterways Advisory Ltd's director, Steve Rodgers, and the company's consultant traffic engineer, offering updates and explaining delays."

Its very obvious that the delays were communicated to Betterways and their engineer so Ms Song was quite wrong in saying that no updates of explanations were given to her.

One must conclude it was a way of getting out of the Memorandum of Understanding and painting the DCC in a bad light.  I think the DCC have bent over backwards to help this development work. 

 

Traffic?

As our friend Mike Hosking so clearly pointed out the obvious ... Traffic? What traffic? Three cars at a give way sign is considered a traffic jam, so if worst case scenario it affected someones commute by five minutes, who cares? Is that really our biggest issue? First world problems indeed. I appreciate its not as simple as that, but honestly guys, losing $100m investment over traffic is ludicrous.

Dont walk

You could hop, skip, jump or run away. Bye bye to the Hotel no one sensible wanted.

What a lot of talking and not a lot of listening

If small things like this can derail this hotel then good riddance.  Council have processes and things go slowly through channels - anyone with common sense knows that.  It is hard to tell from this story of 'he said/she said' what was going on specifically, but it is clear that the art of understanding and patience seems to be lost on the developers.

I do think the hotel is a mistake and would be an eyesore.  And I do think it should go somewhere it doesn't rise like a monolith disrupting the skyline and views.  But it seems the developers don't want to play nice and the Council doesn't know how to play one on one.

Did they really ever want this hotel?

Bad site, too high to conform with surroundings, they wouldn't take community concerns into account, and wouldn't consider other sites. They've now thrown their toys out and walked away.

Councils have to take all compliance matters under consideration as part of due process. This is not China.

There will always be those who will support anything at any cost. If you want to blame something for perceived loss then blame the system that vets such projects.

Did these poeple really ever want to build? There are other well planned projects proceeding in the area. These devolopers face the same requirement to comply as all others building in NZ. 

 

 

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