KiwiRail 'unlikely' to scupper hotel bridge plans

Kiwirail is offering an olive branch to Betterways Advisory Ltd over concerns it could scupper plans for a $100 million waterfront hotel in Dunedin.

Betterways counsel Phil Page, during closing arguments at a hotel consent hearing on Wednesday, suggested KiwiRail could refuse permission for a bridge over its rail corridor, needed to link the hotel and central city, to stop the hotel.

KiwiRail had submitted in opposition to the hotel, and ruled out the use of its land or airspace, over concerns noise from its nearby rail yard would lead to complaints from hotel guests and apartment tenants.

However, a KiwiRail spokeswoman, responding to Otago Daily Times questions yesterday, said it was ''unlikely'' permission for a bridge would be denied, if the hotel was granted consent and the bridge met KiwiRail's requirements.

''If the consenting process permits such a hotel to be built, it would be unlikely KiwiRail would unreasonably withhold consent or support, provided it followed due process,'' she said.

Betterways would need to obtain a deed of grant to use airspace over the rail corridor, and KiwiRail approval of the bridge design, to ensure it did not conflict with any operational requirements, the spokeswoman said.

However, specific questions about whether KiwiRail had already received an application for such permission from Betterways, and, if so, why it had not responded, were not answered yesterday.

Mr Page claimed during Wednesday's evidence one had been filed, but Betterways had not been given ''the dignity of a reply''.

The KiwiRail spokeswoman said key staff needed to address those questions were not available yesterday, but more information could be provided in the coming days.

KiwiRail's concern at the prospect of a hotel as a neighbour was based on the hotel's proximity and worries about noise complaints.

''We want these issues to be consciously understood as part of the consenting process,'' the spokeswoman said.

The consent hearing adjourned on Wednesday with no decision on whether further information or public consultation would be required.

Instead, the Dunedin City Council hearings committee - headed by chairman Cr Colin Weatherall - was waiting to hear if Betterways accepted the need to extend the deadline for a consent decision.

If it did, that would push the deadline out to June 6, but the committee had the power to extend the deadline itself anyway. Cr Weatherall said yesterday he was still waiting to hear from Betterways' representatives, but was hoping for agreement as the extra time was needed for a ''quality and robust decision''.

In addition, Cr Weatherall and committee members Crs Andrew Noone, Kate Wilson and independent commissioner John Lumsden were already discussing the next steps in the process.

They would need to decide what, if any, additional information and consultation might be needed before a decision on the hotel could be made, he said.

It was ''unlikely'' the deadline would need to be shifted beyond June 6 to accommodate that, he said.

A notice confirming the timetable ahead would be made public once Cr Weatherall heard from Betterways' representatives, which could be as soon as today, he said.

If the timeframe was extended, and no further information or consultation was required, the committee would close the hearing and begin deliberating on its decision, he said.

-chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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