Artist's image of the proposed hotel.
One of the overall findings of the Dunedin City Council's
2012 residents' opinion survey released this week was the need
for "an increased emphasis on the economic performance of
Dunedin in general, and the council's role in promoting a
thriving city in particular".
Residents' top priorities included encouraging businesses and
economic development, and results showed residents were least
satisfied with attracting new businesses and jobs, retaining
and supporting the development of existing businesses and
jobs, and processing applications for building consents.
Among the comments were that it was too difficult to
establish businesses, there was too much red tape, and the
council did not do a good job of attracting development.
Given this, it seems surprising the latest large business
development proposed for the city - a $100 million,
28-storey, five-star, waterfront hotel - has met with such
vehement opposition. Or does it?
In recent years, there has been opposition to many proposed
city developments or redevelopments.
These have included ratepayer-funded ventures, such as the
Forsyth Barr Stadium, the Toitu: Otago Settlers Museum
redevelopment and the Dunedin Town Hall complex
redevelopment, as well as private-sector enterprises such as
Mitre 10 Mega in South Dunedin, Roslyn Fresh Choice, the
former Roslyn fire station redevelopment, and Ryman's
retirement complex in Maori Hill.
Does such opposition reflect the widespread views of Dunedin
residents or is it affected parties exercising their proper
democratic right to have their views heard?
Ratepayers should be cautious when footing the bill for major
projects. But it does often seem the automatic response by
many to development is overwhelmingly negative, even if there
is no financial cost to the ratepayer.
Plans for the waterfront hotel, whose developers remain
anonymous, were announced in May.
The hotel is proposed for a section of vacant industrial land
on Wharf St, between the main south railway line and vehicle
overbridge. The building would be the tallest in Dunedin,
have a rooftop restaurant, 164 apartments, 215 hotel rooms,
restaurants, bars, a swimming pool and parking for buses and
Submissions closed this week, with 508 received - 457
opposed, 44 in favour and seven neutral.
The waterfront location on reclaimed land, and issues with
the building's design, height, shading, wind turbulence,
blocked views, access and traffic congestion are the major
concerns raised by opponents, who say the proposal is an
attack on the heritage fabric of Dunedin, is "monstrous" and
a "knife into the heart" of the city.
Proponents argue it would put an underutilised part of the
waterfront to good use, could encourage further development,
boost tourism, has a "cosmopolitan, go-ahead and exciting
look" and is "a first major step in the development of
Dunedin by the private sector for over a decade".
The debate for many comes down to personal opinions on the
"look" of the hotel - and its contrast with heritage
Opinion, somehow, seems to be the two are mutually exclusive.
Issues around traffic congestion and access obviously will
need to be negotiated as part of consent requirements if
granted - but could solve the unresolved issue of foot access
to the harbourside.
For some businesses, concerns over the hotel are operational:
KiwiRail is concerned complaints from guests about noise
could threaten use of the rail corridor and the Airways
Corporation of New Zealand wants assurances the hotel's
height would not make it a threat to aircraft. It is
reasonable those concerns be addressed in any consent. There
is no doubt there are other serious issues, too.
It is right to question the building's suitability in terms
of height risk in an earthquake and, for similar reasons, its
location by the waterfront and on reclaimed land - and right
if, for those reasons, the building does not receive consent.
But part of the wider debate must also be whether Dunedin
needs to be more open-minded about development. If a private
developer cannot spend many millions building on "wasteland"
in a relatively low-density industrial area, on a project
that could attract visitors and provide financial benefits to
the city, where should such a developer go - other than to
And how does that help the council increase the economic
performance of Dunedin?