Two views in sale of properties

The sale of 57 properties owned by Contact Energy, announced on Tuesday, is a double-edged sword, the Clutha Development Group chairman says.

The properties are the last plots of land, once marked for hydro development along the Clutha River, near Beaumont and Tuapeka, to be offered for sale.

Chairman Rob Hewett said he understood the relief of residents that they would have certainty for the future and land ownership but creation of a dam would have created jobs during construction and after.

''It provides them with the opportunity to freehold land they may not have been able to in the past. From an economic development perspective we [the development trust] were very keen ... It's a disappointment from that perspective that the project has been terminated.''

The sales would also positively affect development relating to the Clutha Gold Trail which passes through the area and places such as Beaumont, he said.

Contact spokesman Shaun Jones said properties would not necessarily be listed for sale, as where applicable, Contact would discuss purchase opportunities with tenants and stakeholders first.

In some cases, Contact had an obligation to offer properties to original owners before others.

The number of properties which would end up on the open market depended on negotiations with tenants and original owners, he said.

All sales of the properties, which cover more than 500ha, would be made at market value, Mr Jones said.

Most of the land was rural, so could be used for whatever rural purposes the area's district plan allowed, he said.

The decision to sell the land was made recently. Withdrawing from hydro development was a decision made in 2012, based on economic, technical, environmental, social and cultural factors.

At the time, Contact said hydro generation options would come at a much higher cost than geothermal and wind generation options.

Clutha Gold Trail Trust chairman Rod Peirce said although the announcement confirmed dams in the area would not go ahead, support from Contact Energy for the trail, which opened last October, along with the decision to withdraw from hydro development in 2012, had already made it clear the company would not pursue further electricity generation on the Clutha River.

''We [the trail trust] have been pretty confident that there would not be dams go in, but I suppose that's a confirmation of what we presumed.''

Clutha deputy mayor Hamish Anderson was not so certain there would be no further hydro-electric development on the Clutha River.

''I guess, in the short term, it indicates that Contact Energy is not going to be doing any sort of hydro work ... In the longer term who knows?''They no longer required the land because it was not a good return on investment ... that does not rule out hydro development on the Clutha River in the future, if there is a demand for electricity and if it can be produced economically.''

If Contact reconsidered development on the river it would have to go through consent processes and repurchasing land, he said.

But Mr Anderson said the sales would give the next generation ''reasonable'' reassurance of no hydro development.

The sale process was expected to take about two to three years.

- leith.huffadine@odt.co.nz

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