Comment permalink

A shortage of student accommodation could result from the University of Otago having to stall its capital works programme.

The university plans to add 830 bedrooms to the Dunedin pool in the next 10 years as part of a broad spending programme worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but a key university leader has warned progress would be jeopardised if the Government ignored requests for funding.

"Any delays to the university capital programme will have an impact on accommodation in Dunedin in the future," chief operating officer Stephen Willis said.

The work had become less viable since the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Mr Willis said ramifications for the city from deferring capital works could also include economic fallout, solvency problems for contractors and "loss of skills and experience required to support Dunedin’s future".

And if the university did not get the green light for any of its "shovel-ready projects" pitched to the Government, this was certain to have knock-on effects for the drive to build the new Dunedin Hospital, he said.

University leaders had wanted to get on with the next wave of capital spending sooner rather than later, but deferring activity could lead to the university and hospital trying to get through significant work at the same
time, Mr Willis said.

One of the university’s shovel-ready projects is Te Rangi Hiroa — a plan to build a 450-bed hall at the corner of Forth and Albany Sts in Dunedin.

It will replace the existing Te Rangi Hiroa residential college building, expected to be part of the New Dunedin Hospital complex in the long term.

"Given we are already concerned about the accommodation constraints in the future, we are currently working with the Ministry of Health and and the New Dunedin Hospital project to retain the existing college for as long as possible," Mr Willis said.

But Education Minister Chris Hipkins was not too worried over accommodation challenges.

"Students have a range of accommodation options, including university halls or private flatting arrangements," Mr Hipkins said.

"Universities are independent of the Government. They have the freedom to use the government funding they currently get, based on enrolments and other income they earn, the way they see fit."

The university’s 2020-32 capital plan — drawn up before Covid-19 — was to deliver $1billion of direct capital expenditure.

This would have generated $2.1billion in additional output for the New Zealand economy, Mr Willis said.

In a letter to Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins, Mr Willis warned the Dunedin City Council against assuming the university works would continue as planned.

For 2021, the university has projects worth $180million in the pipeline in Dunedin.

All were at risk of being "paused" unless the Government stepped in, Mr Willis said.

Mr Hawkins could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr Willis said university representatives had communicated with a wide range of MPs and local leaders.

But there had been no word about the fate of the university’s applications since May.



Do we really need beds now. With Covid and international student numbers almost certainly down by 2000 or so next year there will be no rush on the overall accommodation.
Plus will the changes and move to on-line learning effect numbers of students located in Dunedin. Let the University fund it's own accommodation when the Student numbers start to raise again. Plenty of other projects to spend government money on.



Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter