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Earlier this month, the Maritime Union of New Zealand was given a 20-day eviction notice from its Port Chalmers headquarters.
The 1946 building, which is earthquake prone and has asbestos in its roof, is owned by Port Otago, which wants to demolish it. It says restoration would be too expensive.
The union has pledged to fight the eviction and applied to speak at the regional council's public forum yesterday to argue its case.
Council chairman Stephen Woodhead said yesterday he decided to deny the request after receiving advice from Port Otago that there were ''legal processes'' involved.
Cr Bryan Scott said the decision gave the impression the council was showing favour to the port over the union. He was ''surprised and concerned'' by the decision.
''It's about a fundamental right of speech,'' he said.
Cr Michael Laws said Mr Woodhead should have sought another solution to let the union speak. For example, one of the members could have spoken as an individual, he said.
''That would have been a nice legal way of getting around this issue.''
Mr Woodhead said it was not his job to ''shape up their request''.
It was at the chairman's discretion to decline speakers who were subject to legal proceedings, he said.
Cr Trevor Kempton said it was not up to the council to get involved in Port Otago's tenancy agreements.
Maritime Union Port Chalmers branch secretary Phil Adams said there were no legal processes between it and the port.
''I'm very annoyed. I pay rates like everyone else. It's like he's taking one side.''
Mr Woodhead deferred questions about the legal processes to port chief executive Kevin Winders, who provided the advice.
Mr Winders said the legal processes related to it starting the termination of the lease after the union refused to vacate.