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At Otago Regional Council committee meetings yesterday councillors discussed future work on aesthetics and access for the Water of Leith between Forth St and the harbour.
Staff presented a list of optional works which were created in consultation with the public, iwi and other organisations.
At $8million, the Forth St to Anzac Ave stretch makes up most of the cost.
Works on that section could include ripping up the concrete bed and replacing it with stones and rocks for a more "natural" environment, removing a central wall dividing channels, and demolishing the right and left bank walls and replacing them with sloped grass embankments.
The wider project would include constructing walkways and an access ramp as well as street furniture, murals and sculptures.
Cr Michael Deaker said it was time for action on an "ugly and unnecessarily over-engineered" part of Dunedin.
However, he was "slapped across the face" by the cost.
"Where does that money come from?"
Council engineering, hazards and science director Gavin Palmer said the costs would need to be worked out in the next long-term plan.
They would be staggered as some of the work could take "decades".
"At the moment we don't have a project, we just have a long list. At the moment it's not a commitment."
Cr Gretchen Robertson said she could see the area becoming amazing.
It would likely be worth spending money on the project in the long term and the council could lose out from trying to cut costs, she said.
Cr Michael Laws said it was the essential duty of the council to enhance the quality of life of citizens whenever possible.
It should be "bold, innovative and visionary".
"It's time for the ORC to look at its finances and say `we're flush'. Of course you've got the money there."
Cr Ella Lawton said the council should question whether it wanted to spend money on water quality rather than aesthetic.
Council chairman Stephen Woodhead said while the costs seemed "eye-watering", the work was important, as the area would become increasingly busy over the next decade.
The council has approved $953,000 for amenity works on that part of the river for the next financial year.