'Gutted' after Contact rejects land offer

Contact Energy has rejected Lewis Verduyn-Cassels' offer to buy a piece of land near Luggate for the community, leaving the river conservationist ''gutted'' and unable to meet the power company's counteroffer.

Mr Verduyn-Cassels made an offer to Contact on Tuesday to buy one of its properties next to the Clutha River on which he hoped to establish part of a proposed Red Bridge River Park community conservation area.

Yesterday afternoon, Contact corporate communications manager Shaun Jones said Mr Verduyn-Cassels' offer was ''significantly below several independent market valuations'' and Contact had provided ''what we believe is a fair counteroffer along with a week to consider this''.

Mr Jones said Contact had at all times been ''fair, open and transparent'' with Mr Verduyn-Cassels, who had now been given his second extension to consider an offer from Contact for the property, which he had leased since 1991.

Mr Verduyn-Cassels told the Otago Daily Times his offer of $190,000 plus GST was ''all the money I can scrape together''.

Contact's counteroffer of $300,000 plus GST - below the property's market value of $395,000 provided by APL Property - was ''significantly beyond what I can afford to pay to buy this [land] for the community''.

''I'm gutted really, because I was hoping they'd want to work with us and they've just given me seven days to give them $110,000 basically.

Lewis Verduyn-Cassels
Lewis Verduyn-Cassels
''My best effort is not good enough for Contact, and I feel that I am letting the community down over this, because so many people support our Red Bridge River Park plan.''

Mr Verduyn-Cassels considered the counteroffer ''very unfair'' when a neighbouring property, also with no building platform, sold earlier this month for $190,000, as shown in the APL valuation.

That block was 1.79ha and therefore ''significantly larger'' than the 0.4ha site for he had made his offer, he said.

Mr Jones said Contact appreciated the community interest in the use of the land and, in recognition, had ''gifted'' 2.2ha parcels of riverside land on either side of the Luggate end of the Red Bridge for community use.

Contact was still determining the most appropriate local community organisation to give the land to.

''Mr Verduyn-Cassels' Red Bridge River Park Trust proposal suggests Contact gifts all four blocks in the yet-to-be established trust as public space for a community conservation park, with Mr Verduyn-Cassels continuing to reside on site at the existing dwelling as the river keeper,'' Mr Jones said.

''It's important to remember that the Department of Conservation has not identified any of these blocks of land as having conservation values, but has done so for other parcels of land we are selling in the Upper Clutha, which the department is now in the process of purchasing.''

Mr Jones said the two blocks on either side of where Mr Verduyn-Cassels lived were preferentially offered for sale by Contact to current tenants and prior owners in the first instance and had subsequently been sold, ''meaning the river park as proposed is no longer feasible''.

However, Mr Verduyn-Cassels said this week the park could still proceed with the gifted land, the property he had hoped to buy and the wide marginal strip in between.



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