Hotel emails testify to updates

Jing Song.
Jing Song.
The Dunedin City Council was warned two weeks ago the developers behind a proposed $100 million waterfront hotel could walk away, because of mounting frustration at delays, emails released yesterday show.

However, the emails also confirmed council staff were in regular contact with Betterways Advisory Ltd's director, Steve Rodgers, and the company's consultant traffic engineer, offering updates and explaining delays.

The emails were released to the Otago Daily Times yesterday, following an official information request, after hotel developer Jing Song terminated a memorandum of understanding with the council on Monday.

She blamed the council for failing to provide a completed traffic report by a March 21 deadline, set as part of the agreement, and for offering no ''updates or explanations'' to explain the delays.

However, emails between March 10, when the two sides announced their agreement, and March 21 were swapped by council staff, its consultants and Andy Carr, of Carriageway Consultants, acting for Betterways.

The emails discussed details of a March 17 workshop, held to discuss solutions to traffic issues, as well as meeting minutes and a draft report that followed.

Then, on Friday, March 21 - the date a completed traffic report was due - council infrastructure and networks general manager Tony Avery emailed an update to all parties, including Mr Rodgers.

The update advised the March 17 workshop had been ''productive'', with three potential options identified to address traffic issues, but more work was needed and a final report was expected by March 25.

Mr Avery also acknowledged the report was due on March 21, but added: ''I think it has been generally accepted that we weren't going to meet that date.

''We are looking to progress things as quickly as possible though as it is important that we establish whether there is an acceptable traffic solution that will work for both [parties].

''Any questions, let me know.''

The following Monday, March 24, Mr Carr emailed

council workshop facilitator David Booth, of Octa Associates, warning Ms Song wanted an update.

''I can't really maintain silence until the end of the week without risking the professional relationship ... I will endeavour to be non-specific in the dialogue, as the alternative of saying that I'm not yet able to say anything will probably go down very badly!''

He was advised by Mr Booth to call Ms Song, despite a later email from Mr Rodgers - sent to Mr Avery on April 3 - confirming workshop discussions were confidential.

More emails followed, including an update on March 25, forwarded by council chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose to former Dunedin city councillor Syd Brown, who was acting as an adviser to Betterways.

''Please feel free to share this with Jing as a guide to timing,'' Dr Bidrose wrote to Mr Brown.

Then, at 9.12am on April 3, Mr Rodgers wrote back to Dr Bidrose, Mr Avery and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, expressing concern delays were continuing and calling for an update ''urgently''.

''I am very concerned that my clients will view this lack of response as the council not wanting to work with them and that they may walk away.''

Mr Avery, responding from his cellphone less than an hour later, said he was seeking an urgent update from the council's consultants, but questioned communication within Betterways.

''I'm assuming that you are receiving no information from your traffic expert [Mr Carr] who was part of the workshop and presumably is aware of what the traffic experts are working through?''Mr Rodgers replied at lunchtime that Betterways was receiving ''limited information'' from its consultant ''as he was told that until the [traffic] report was released it was confidential, thus the reason for chasing''.

On April 8, Mr Booth emailed a traffic issues update to Mr Avery, who forwarded it to Mr Rodgers and Mr Brown the same day.

Then, at lunchtime on Monday, April 14, Ms Song emailed Dr Bidrose, setting a 4pm deadline for a completed traffic report.

The letter expressed Ms Song's ''extreme disappointment'' the March 21 deadline had passed ''and no updates or explanations from council have been provided, despite our repeated chasing''.

Mr Avery emailed back at 1.26pm, forwarding her an earlier update and again explaining the delays and process.

''We had assumed that your expert would have kept you informed about the progress but clearly that hasn't happened.

''I can assure you that we are making every endeavour to proceed with the necessary work as quickly as possible.''

Then, at 4.50pm, Mr Rodgers replied: ''As Jing has heard nothing from you by 4pm as required by the letter sent earlier today she has instructed me that the MOU is at an end. She and [husband Ping Cao] will not be progressing with the hotel.''

Mr Avery replied at 5.33pm to Mr Rodgers, Ms Song and Mr Brown, saying the council was ''at a loss to understand the apparent problems in the Betterways communication channels that has given rise to this situation''.

''We are, as always willing to continue on with the MOU process.''

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