New zone for Mercy Hospital

The Dunedin City Council has approved the creation in the district plan of new ''zone'' specifically for Mercy Hospital, that will allow it to expand without having to apply for resource consent for every project it undertakes over the next 10 to 15 years.

The December decision notes the council is considering introducing other site-specific zones where there are well-established and sizeable facilities operating as non-permitted activities. The change will allow easier growth for the hospital, which the council says will give the Maori Hill facility and its neighbours assurance as to what expansions are proposed.

A new major facilities (Mercy Hospital) zone will be added to the district plan and will outline issues, objectives, policies, methods and rules of the zone, and a structure plan including a site plan showing existing and proposed buildings for the next 10-15 years.

The decision, from the council hearings committee of chairman Cr Colin Weatherall and Crs Kate Wilson, Andrew Noone and Teresa Stevenson, followed the receipt of 11 submissions, six in support, two in opposition, one neutral and two conditionally supportive, and a hearing on November 12 last year.

Council staff supported the proposal.

The reasons given by the committee for its decision included that the rezoning of the site from residential 1 was appropriate considering the longstanding and non-residential use of the site as a hospital, and that definitions, objectives, policies and rules for the site needed to be tightened and clarified to avoid unintentional consequences on neighbouring residences.

It supported the structure plan, finalised after a study of the hospital's present and future needs.

Any future expansions not in accordance with the plan would require resource consent.

Accessory buildings were not subject to the structure plan, but had their own performance criteria, consistent or more restrictive than in the residential 1 zone.

Mercy was a well-established medical facility valued by the community as a service provider. It should be allowed to continue its operation, and some expansion, as of right.

Having non-residential activities in residential areas was not uncommon. Schools, for example, operated under a designation that allowed them to undertake a new activity or construct a building on-site without requiring a resource consent.

The rezoning of the hospital was not unlike creating a designation, but still provided the council with the opportunity to specify future expansion and decline activities which were unacceptable.

''It is our opinion that any precedent set will not be undesirable; some well-established activities would well be served by a specific zone that recognises their character and place in the community.''

It is hoped the second generation district plan will include new special zone provisions for health, educational, and possibly sporting facilities.

Mercy Hospital chief executive Richard Whitney said people could challenge the decision until February 20 but he expected few would oppose it.

''I would like to think not. The process has been pretty robust. I think the consultation process by ourselves and the council have been extensive.''

He was ''delighted'' with the decision.

''It will allow us to do what we set out to do - to be decisive in our view of the next 15 to 20 years.''

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