Dunedin's waterfront hotel

Artist's image of the proposed hotel.
Artist's image of the proposed hotel.
One of the overall findings of the Dunedin City Council's 2012 residents' opinion survey released this week was the need for "an increased emphasis on the economic performance of Dunedin in general, and the council's role in promoting a thriving city in particular".

Residents' top priorities included encouraging businesses and economic development, and results showed residents were least satisfied with attracting new businesses and jobs, retaining and supporting the development of existing businesses and jobs, and processing applications for building consents.

Among the comments were that it was too difficult to establish businesses, there was too much red tape, and the council did not do a good job of attracting development. Given this, it seems surprising the latest large business development proposed for the city - a $100 million, 28-storey, five-star, waterfront hotel - has met with such vehement opposition. Or does it?

In recent years, there has been opposition to many proposed city developments or redevelopments.

These have included ratepayer-funded ventures, such as the Forsyth Barr Stadium, the Toitu: Otago Settlers Museum redevelopment and the Dunedin Town Hall complex redevelopment, as well as private-sector enterprises such as Mitre 10 Mega in South Dunedin, Roslyn Fresh Choice, the former Roslyn fire station redevelopment, and Ryman's retirement complex in Maori Hill.

Does such opposition reflect the widespread views of Dunedin residents or is it affected parties exercising their proper democratic right to have their views heard?

Ratepayers should be cautious when footing the bill for major projects. But it does often seem the automatic response by many to development is overwhelmingly negative, even if there is no financial cost to the ratepayer.

Plans for the waterfront hotel, whose developers remain anonymous, were announced in May.

The hotel is proposed for a section of vacant industrial land on Wharf St, between the main south railway line and vehicle overbridge. The building would be the tallest in Dunedin, have a rooftop restaurant, 164 apartments, 215 hotel rooms, restaurants, bars, a swimming pool and parking for buses and cars.

Submissions closed this week, with 508 received - 457 opposed, 44 in favour and seven neutral.

The waterfront location on reclaimed land, and issues with the building's design, height, shading, wind turbulence, blocked views, access and traffic congestion are the major concerns raised by opponents, who say the proposal is an attack on the heritage fabric of Dunedin, is "monstrous" and a "knife into the heart" of the city.

Proponents argue it would put an underutilised part of the waterfront to good use, could encourage further development, boost tourism, has a "cosmopolitan, go-ahead and exciting look" and is "a first major step in the development of Dunedin by the private sector for over a decade".

The debate for many comes down to personal opinions on the "look" of the hotel - and its contrast with heritage buildings.

Opinion, somehow, seems to be the two are mutually exclusive.

Issues around traffic congestion and access obviously will need to be negotiated as part of consent requirements if granted - but could solve the unresolved issue of foot access to the harbourside.

For some businesses, concerns over the hotel are operational: KiwiRail is concerned complaints from guests about noise could threaten use of the rail corridor and the Airways Corporation of New Zealand wants assurances the hotel's height would not make it a threat to aircraft. It is reasonable those concerns be addressed in any consent. There is no doubt there are other serious issues, too.

It is right to question the building's suitability in terms of height risk in an earthquake and, for similar reasons, its location by the waterfront and on reclaimed land - and right if, for those reasons, the building does not receive consent.

But part of the wider debate must also be whether Dunedin needs to be more open-minded about development. If a private developer cannot spend many millions building on "wasteland" in a relatively low-density industrial area, on a project that could attract visitors and provide financial benefits to the city, where should such a developer go - other than to another city?

And how does that help the council increase the economic performance of Dunedin?


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