Park supporters get reprieve

Supporters of a proposed riverside community park near Luggate have been given a reprieve by Contact Energy in their bid to buy land for the conservation project.

Yesterday, Red Bridge River Park promoter Lewis Verduyn-Cassels made a formal request to Contact for a 60-day postponement of the sale of a property next to the Clutha River that he leases from the power company.

He wants to establish a conservation park on the site and last week offered Contact $190,000 plus GST for the property.

That was met with a counter-offer from Contact of $300,000 plus GST, which Mr Verduyn-Cassels said he could not afford.

He had been given until 5pm yesterday to respond to the counter-offer.

However, a joint statement issued yesterday afternoon by Mr Verduyn-Cassels and Contact said the parties had agreed on Contact postponing the marketing of the property to provide Mr Verduyn-Cassels with an opportunity to form a charitable trust and raise the balance of the funds needed to buy the property.

''This is the progress we had been hoping for,'' Mr Verduyn-Cassels said.

''I'm sure many people will be very pleased to hear this news. It's a significant gesture of goodwill on the part of Contact Energy, and one which we genuinely appreciate.''

Contact was continuing to work with Luggate stakeholders to decide which entity - such as the Queenstown Lakes District Council or the Department of Conservation - it would gift a neighbouring riverside property to ''in order to ensure it can be used for the benefit of the broader local community'', the statement said.

During the public forum at last week's QLDC meeting in Wanaka, Mr Verduyn-Cassels said he was ''desperate'' to secure his section as part of the proposed park to be put in a trust for the community.

''It would be a very, very valuable community asset if we can just proceed with it.''

District councillor Ella Lawton agreed the proposal could have considerable economic value, as there was nothing else like it in the Upper Clutha.

''It's a very commendable project that's worth a bit of attention,'' councillor Calum MacLeod agreed.

The idea of asking for a 60-day postponement in the sales process was raised by river park supporters at an annual meeting of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand last Thursday.

lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz