Harbour project labelled mistake

Dave Cull
Dave Cull
Pursuing a vision of harbourside redevelopment in Dunedin has so far cost the city's ratepayers more than $2.6 million, it has been confirmed.

The revelation, prompted by Otago Daily Times inquiries, has led the Otago Chamber of Commerce to label the Dunedin City Council's ''grandiose'' plan a mistake.

It has also prompted Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, who was an early critic of the proposal, to suggest it should never have got off the ground.

''If we could have our time again, we would not have run this project ... It is a lot of money,'' Mr Cull said yesterday.

His comments came after council staff released a detailed breakdown of the $2,614,485 spent by the council on the harbourside plan change process since 2005.

The amount included almost $1.7 million spent to buy two properties at 20 and 30 Thomas Burns St, which were thought to be needed to improve access to the waterfront in future.

The bill also included $400,000 in legal costs from the long-running mediation process that followed, as well as $315,000 on hearing, consultant and other ''sundry'' expenses incurred by the council.

A $200,000 payment from the council to settle with Dunedin developer Tim Barnett, confirmed in August this year, was also included.

The payment, together with a public apology from the council, followed the council's decision to place a notice of requirement on Mr Barnett's property at 41 Wharf St, stalling his own plans. The council withdrew the notice in 2010.

The figures showed the council's costs had continued to mount, even as the plan change zone shrank, in the face of stiff opposition from the chamber and affected businesses.

The group lodged an Environment Court appeal, prompting mediation with the council that led to a dramatically reduced harbourside zone, which was signed off last year.

The reduced zone allowed redevelopment of only a smaller area south of the Steamer Basin, while industrial land to the north was spared.

Chamber chief executive John Christie told the ODT the results, and the cost for ratepayers, showed the council's ''grandiose'' plan had not been ''well thought through''.

Some ''very entrenched views'' had led to the courts and mediation, ramping up the costs, which was ''really unfortunate'', he said.

However, he defended the chamber's opposition to the plans, saying jobs were at stake and the appeal was ''in the best interests of the city''.

''It was an action that we took that we wish we didn't have to take ... It's a significant amount of money that we'd rather see used on projects that are more positive for the city.''

The ODT understands the vision - formally unveiled in 2005 - was largely the brainchild of former council chief executive Jim Harland, who quit the organisation in early 2011.

It was then developed by the council and Port Otago subsidiary Chalmers Properties Ltd, which owned much of the land in the area.

The plan originally envisaged a harbourside full of apartments, bars, a hotel, tree-lined boulevards, a public square and even an ''Amsterdam-style'' canal, focused largely in the industrial area north of Steamer Basin.

Mr Harland did not respond to an ODT request for comment, but Mr Cull said the project had progressed because ''back then, people in charge thought it an idea worth pursuing''.

However, Mr Cull said the council could still sell the land purchased for harbourside, if needed, and planning rules had been freed up in what remained of the zone.

''I hear some exciting ideas about what that part of town might become. Some of these would be good for the city, if they happen.''

Former councillor Colin Weatherall - who was asked to handle the mediation process for the council - said the size of plan change meant mediation was always going to be an expensive process.

However, the results had provided ''certainty'' for businesses in the area, while allowing some redevelopment as-of-right in the reduced zone, and would be ''good for the city at some stage in the future'', he believed.

Mr Christie said the council's costs did not include those incurred by the chamber, its partners in the appeal, and other businesses opposed to the plan change.

Together, the chamber and its five partners had probably spent between $50,000 and $100,000 on the appeal and mediation process.

Including the cost of staff time involved would add ''hundreds of thousands'' more to the bill, and other businesses acting alone would have incurred their own costs, preparing submissions or engaging consultants, he said.

However, if unopposed, the plan change would have threatened businesses and jobs, he believed.

''It was a lengthy process that we went through in the best interests not just of the commercial sector, but Dunedin.''

DCC's habourside costs - $2.6m
• Legal costs - $401,660
• Settlement - $200,000
• Other costs - $315,633
• Capital costs - $1,697,192
• Total - $2,614,485

Capital costs of $1,697,192 comprising:
• 2005-06 - purchase of 20 Thomas Burns St - $497,500
• 2011-12 - purchase of 30 Thomas Burns St - $1,199,692

- chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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