Council vote backs exploring Forrester Heights sale

Waitaki district councillors have voted 6-3 in favour of exploring options to sell some or all of Forrester Heights.

The result of the vote at yesterday’s council meeting came despite 70% of the 905 submissions on the future of the 2.5ha of land overlooking Oamaru Harbour supporting reserve status, compared with 30% supporting selling the land and using the funds for community benefit.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher and councillors Colin Wollstein, Kelli Williams, Jim Thomson, Hana Halalele, and Jeremy Holding voted to confirm the council’s intent to sell, while councillors Melanie Tavendale, Jim Hopkins and Guy Percival voted against. Cr Bill Kingan was absent for the vote.

Friends of Oamaru Harbour co-ordinator Vicki Jayne said the group was "very disappointed" in the council’s dismissal of a strong public mandate for Forrester Heights to be a reserve.

"Not only were the views of a majority of submitters ignored, the many valid concerns raised during the consultation process were not even addressed," Ms Jayne said.

With any future sale agreement to be approved by a new group of councillors after the local body elections in October, "this is not the end of the matter", she said.

Council chief executive Alex Parmley said it was a "really tricky" decision for councillors, in terms of balancing the consultation feedback with the wider interests of the community.

Yesterday’s outcome did not lock the council into a sale — it enabled engagement with the market and assessment of costs, conditions and a potential return, Mr Parmley said.

"Clearly if the return that is likely to be achieved on the sale of the site isn’t sufficient, then it will need to be reconsidered as to whether this is the right time to sell that land or not," he said.

Cr Tavendale said her decision to vote against a sale came down to listening to the community. While she had "no real issue" with building on Forrester Heights, she did not believe a sale was going to give the council the financial return it had hoped for, and said "the angst and the pain for not listening to our community" would not be worth it.

Cr Hopkins believed the council’s consultation campaign had failed, and he supported Cr Tavendale’s position that councillors should listen to those who engaged in the consultation process — whether they believed the majority was right or wrong.

Cr Thomson said while he did not want to see any green spaces sacrificed, he voted to pursue the sale process so he could get all the information he needed, including the potential return for the council, to make a more informed decision.

Mr Kircher envisaged Forrester Heights becoming a "very green, biodiversity-friendly, neighbourhood", where buildings blended into the hillside, and where native plantings led on to the Cape Wanbrow reserve area.

He said the community’s input had helped inform decisions, and resulted in some "significant changes" to the recommendations, including the addition of appropriate covenants to protect the views from lookout point and the appearance of the site, he said.

"Some of you may feel like we haven’t listened; that is not the case. Listening is not the same as agreeing and today we’ve made a decision which we think is best," Mr Kircher said.

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