As corporate and community interests collide over a
parcel of land on the banks of the Clutha River near Wanaka,
the future of a proposed public riverside park - featuring
conservation, recreational, historic and educational elements -
is unclear. Lucy Ibbotson talks to those behind the park
proposal and the long-term landowner.
Discussing land where a community river park has been
proposed next to the Luggate Red Bridge are (from left)
Wanaka Community Board member Bryan Lloyd, landscape
architect Anne Steven, district councillor Ella Lawton and
river conservationist Lewis Verduyn-Cassels. Photo by Lucy
Plans for a community river park at the Luggate Red Bridge
still stand despite the sale this week of one of the
properties needed for the project.
The riverside park proposal has been developed by Clutha
Mata-Au River Parkway group chairman Lewis Verduyn-Cassels,
landscape architect Anne Steven and Luggate resident Graham
However, one of the three properties comprising the roughly
2.75ha proposed park site on the right bank of the Clutha
River, just upstream of the bridge, was sold this week by
Contact Energy to an undisclosed buyer.
Mr Verduyn-Cassels said while the sale was ''not desirable'',
the group ''certainly haven't given up on the vision'' of a
park and was working to raise more capital to bolster some
initial indications of funding support.
''Whether or not we have to negotiate with the new buyer ...
they might actually like what we're doing, they might be one
of our supporters, we don't know.''
The group was also working with the Queenstown Lakes District
Council and Otago Regional Council towards designating the
land a ''special purpose site'' for community benefit, as it
had been in the days of the river punt, before the bridge was
built nearly a century ago.
The three properties were acquired by Contact's predecessors,
the Electricity Corporation of New Zealand, in the 1980s and
have a combined rateable value of $1.17 million.
They are among Contact's landholdings along the river which
the power company is selling, following its April 2012
decision to withdraw plans for further hydro development on
Mr Verduyn-Cassels said the concept for the park - which
would be administered for the community by a proposed Red
Bridge River Park Trust - had received ''total support'' from
everyone the group had approached, except Contact.
The New Zealand Transport Agency, Upper Clutha Tracks Trust,
Te Kakano Aotearoa Trust, Department of Conservation and the
councils had all had input into the project.
The park's advocates had asked Contact to join them in a
''community partnership'', or to allow time to find funding,
but were advised the intention was ''to sell this land
regardless'', Mr Verduyn-Cassels said.
''That's pretty heartbreaking for us, because we had hoped
that they would be supportive of a community project ... it's
hard because they have a corporate agenda and we have a
community agenda and the two don't seem to mix very well.''
Contact's trading, development and geothermal resources
project manager Neil Gillespie said the park proposal was
presented to the power company after marketing had begun for
the now-sold property and after sale negotiations were under
way with the previous owner of one of the other pieces of
Mr Verduyn-Cassels has tenanted the third property since 1991
and carried out his own native restoration project there.
''Until the processes around any sales are complete we have
advised the group that we are not in a position to further
consider the proposal,'' Mr Gillespie said.
The proposal would be ''at the discretion of any new owner''.
Contact had suggested the proposed park trust ''reconsider
the impacts on their proposal in the event that the only land
that can be considered to form part of it will be the
property currently tenanted by Lewis Verduyn-Cassels''.
Mr Gillespie said during the past 11 months Contact had had
''a number'' of discussions with Mr Verduyn-Cassels regarding
its intentions to sell the property.
''As current tenant we offered him first rights to purchase
the land, which he has chosen not to accept to date.''
Mr Verduyn-Cassels said he did not want to buy the land
himself, as he already regarded it a public space, frequently
visited by recreational users, which should be acquired as a
Under the proposal, the park would function as a resource
centre for freshwater management and research, outdoor
education, ecological restoration and historical education
and host work experience for students and travellers.
It would include habitats for skinks and the endangered
longfin eel, a native nursery, information panels detailing
the area's history - including the story of the river punt
man and Chinese gold miners - and a large riverside commons
area for community gatherings.
An official opening would coincide with the Red Bridge
centennial celebrations in October 2015.
Mr Verduyn-Cassels said he initially pitched the concept to
Contact, the Luggate community and Doc in June 2012 and again
in May 2013.
Earlier this week, Queenstown Lakes deputy mayor Lyal Cocks -
one of several councillors and Wanaka Community Board members
who have visited the site - said the proposal had merit.
''I think it's an interesting idea worth pursuing and [I'm]
wanting to help discussions with Contact ... to see whether
there's any option for timing to get some sort of trust
formed to see if money could be raised to acquire that
area,'' Cr Cocks said.