Anger at Pol Pot remark

A Dunedin city councillor who compared Heritage New Zealand with the leader of the Khmer Rouge has been forced to beat a hasty retreat.

Cr Hilary Calvert made the comment as councillors discussed Heritage New Zealand's desire to protect the old sea wall running alongside Portobello Rd on Otago Peninsula.

Councillors at yesterday's infrastructure services committee meeting wanted to know if the old sea wall's rocks could be recycled to help build a new wall and accelerate cycleway work in the area.

But, on hearing Heritage New Zealand would likely want to see older sections of the wall protected, beneath a new one, Cr Calvert said the council should not be ''asking their permission''.

''We are being held to ransom by this Pol Pot-ish approach, aren't we?''

That prompted an immediate interjection from Cr Aaron Hawkins, who disagreed with any comparison between Heritage New Zealand and the ''mass slaughter of people''.

Pol Pot was the revolutionary communist who oversaw a reign of terror by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia from 1963, during which time up to three million people died.

Cr Calvert, asked to withdraw the comment, appeared to do so reluctantly.

''I don't consider them precisely the same as Pol Pot, so I will withdraw the suggestion they are exactly the same as Pol Pot.''

Heritage New Zealand Otago-Southland area manager Jonathan Howard could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.

The exchange came as a report by council programme engineer Michael Harrison to yesterday's meeting confirmed the peninsula cycleway - between Vauxhall and Portobello - could be completed in three years instead of nine.

That would trim $3 million from the project's $23.8 million cost, as well as improving safety and travel times for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

However, there were two ''critical'' risks standing in the way of the more rapid progress, his report said.

One was confirmation of additional NZTA funding upfront, which should be known by May next year, Mr Harrison said.

The other was sourcing enough suitable rock to rebuild the sea wall along Portobello Rd, once the road was widened, he said.

That could be addressed by starting to stockpile rock now, or by deferring the rock wall component of the project while continuing with road-widening and the construction of the cycleway, councillors heard.

It appeared Heritage New Zealand would want any sections of the sea wall built before 2000, and not since upgraded, to be entombed behind any new sea wall, Mr Harrison said.

That would preserve the older sections of wall, even if out of sight, and meet the requirements of an existing resource consent, he said.

Cr Thomson said burying the wall to save it appeared ''somewhat akin'' to destroying Vietnamese villages to save them.

''I don't understand it.''

However, he distanced himself from Cr Calvert's comment.

''I don't wish to appear in the same paragraph as likening them to Pol Pot.''

Cr Neville Peat said entombing the old sections of sea wall would offer ''more complete'' protection, but worried about the loss of intertidal habitat as more sections of harbour edge were reclaimed.

Cr Jinty MacTavish also questioned why it was deemed more appropriate to quarry another headland, when other rocks were already available.

She wanted to see rocks of an appropriate colour used in the sea wall, particularly near Portobello, but also stressed the need for community involvement in the development of the project.

''This is one of the most significant projects this council will have the opportunity to spend money on over the next few years.''

Otago Peninsula Community Board chairwoman Christine Garey said most people she had spoken to were focused on the project's safety improvements, not rocks or their colour.

Councillors voted to note the report and endorse further work by staff, including further discussions with HNZ staff about reusing rocks from the old seawall.

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