River conservationist Lewis Verduyn-Cassels has put his
money where his mouth is in a bid to secure a piece of land for
As a driving force behind a proposed public conservation park
at the Luggate Red Bridge, Mr Verduyn-Cassels had until 5pm
yesterday to put together an offer to buy one of three
Contact Energy-owned riverside properties featured in park
Late yesterday afternoon, he made Contact an offer for the
property, which he hopes to then vest in a community trust as
the Red Bridge River Park.
He has leased the land from Contact since 1991, living on
site while doing his own native restoration work there.
''I've always regarded it as a public space. I feel very
privileged to live here ... I want to continue to care for
Although there had been strong support from the community to
have the area permanently available to the public, there had
been insufficient time to mount a fundraising campaign to buy
the land, Mr Verduyn-Cassels said.
Contact advised in May last year it intended to sell the
properties at some point. Then on March 21 he was ''suddenly
informed'' the sales process was being ''fast-tracked'' to
meet an end-of-financial-year deadline.
''I find myself in a a very difficult situation because I
sincerely believe this riverside land should be a public
space for the community and I find myself having to buy it
myself in order to do this. I don't feel like I have any
''I'm taking out two mortgages. I'm stretching myself to the
limit to do what I can to purchase this property in order to
create a river park to put it in a trust for the community.
Some people might think that's crazy but I can't help who I
am,'' he said.
''If Contact demands more than I can offer then I would like
to ... talk to them about it ... and come to some kind of
solution that's good for everyone concerned.''
On Monday, Contact said it had identified a 2.2ha block of
land on either side of the Luggate end of the Red Bridge
which it ''may be willing to gift'' to the Upper Clutha
Mr Verduyn-Cassels said that block, combined with the
property he hoped to buy and the marginal strip connecting
them, would be enough to enable work on the park to begin.
Although the other two properties needed for the project were
sold this month by Contact to undisclosed buyers, it was
hoped the trust responsible for the park would be able to
work with the new owners to restore the land to its native
condition. If his offer was accepted, funding applications
would be made for the restoration work, which he would
continue to carry out as an on-site ''river keeper'', Mr
However, it would not be ''moral'' for him to seek
reimbursement from the trust for buying the land.
''It's my fate that I have to suffer this debt for the
community ... The right thing to do is to try and secure this
land so that the community can enjoy it. That's the bottom
line for me.''
Contact's trading, development and geothermal resources
project manager, Neil Gillespie, said yesterday he could not
comment until the company had considered any offer to buy the