ORC denies hindering development

City councillor David Benson-Pope says the Otago Regional Council and its companies should get out of the way of development on Dunedin's waterfront.

But the ORC, Port Otago and subsidiary Chalmers Properties have hit back, insisting they are ''open for business'' and in favour of development in the area.

The mixed messages came as councillors lined up to support greater development of the harbourside on the south side of Steamer Basin, while some also eyed industrial areas further north.

Cr Benson-Pope told the Otago Daily Times the area was ''the number one missed opportunity for Dunedin'', and the ORC, Port Otago and Chalmers Properties were standing in the way of development.

Together the companies owned tracts of the waterfront, much of it leased to businesses, but the area's warehouses and wooden wharves were in an ''appalling'' state.

He had also heard repeated negative reports about the ''unhelpful'' response of the ORC and its companies to approaches, including over the price of freeholding land.

The companies needed to do more to foster development, or sell land at ''a reasonable price'' to let other people get on with it, he said.

''I think the big problem is the lack of energy from Chalmers Properties, and a lack of commitment to the city, actually.

''Their current attitude is a blockage to development, and that's a great shame.''

Others agreed, including Crs Neville Peat, Aaron Hawkins, Hilary Calvert and Lee Vandervis.

Cr Calvert said the ORC needed to get ''its act together'' over leasehold land, or development would have to wait for buildings to be abandoned.

''Having leasehold land down there destroys any chance of doing anything.''

Cr Hawkins said the area also presented the ORC with ''a fine opportunity to show their commitment to Dunedin''.

''If Chalmers Properties are happy just sitting on our assets, rather than doing anything with them, then maybe it's time they got off the can.''

Cr Vandervis said that the solution was simple - amalgamate the two councils, freehold the ORC's leasehold land ''as the DCC did ... a decade ago'', and reinvest profits in rebuilding the Steamer Basin's wharves and infrastructure.

However, Port Otago chief executive Geoff Plunket rejected the criticisms, saying the company - and Chalmers Properties - supported development and were ''open for business''.

''We're very ambitious for Dunedin - we want to see Dunedin get ahead.''

Port Otago was a key player behind the proposed harbourside zone, which was scaled back after opposition from other businesses in the area.

Despite that, Mr Plunkett said the area south of Steamer Basin remained the city's next ''logical'' development site after the Warehouse precinct.

A bridge linking the two areas would be key, but the company was ''very enthusiastic on development within the harbour basin'', he said.

Port Otago had been consolidating its upper harbour operations further north, away from Steamer Basin, in anticipation of fresh development in the area, he said.

It was also involved in other projects, including the $4 million office and warehouse building in Sturdee St - for pallet and container company Chep - last year.

The company would support development projects by selling land, but the price had to be right and supported by valuations, he said.

''If it needs us to sell, if it's in the best interests of getting development under way, then we would.''

ORC chairman Stephen Woodhead said he would also ''totally disagree'' with critics of the ORC and its companies.

Port Otago and Chalmers Properties were required to operate as commercial entities for the benefit of people across Otago, but the council and the companies backed development.

''I can't be clearer. We and Port Otago are open for business,'' he said.

''There's the odd person who seems to consider the land should be cheaper because it's in the ownership of a public entity. I don't accept that at all.''

However, the ORC's prime waterfront headquarters site was ''not for sale'', and unlikely to be until after the council confirmed its future office needs, he said.

That was not expected to happen before the end of the year, and Mr Woodhead could not say if a sale could be considered before then.

''I can't answer that ... At this stage it's not for sale, but our door is always open.''

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