The council-owned section in Featherston where development has fallen through. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

‘Shingle pit’ needs ‘hundreds of thousands’ of dollars to fix

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz

A piece of commercial land in Featherston obtained by South Wairarapa District Council in a land swap appears to be a lemon.

Anyone wanting to build on 57 Fitzherbert St would have to spend “hundreds of thousands” of dollars to move a telecommunications duct owned by Chorus.

The council gained the land through a land swap with Trust House in 2013, but the trust denies it had any knowledge of the issue.

The council was only made aware of the problem after accepting an offer from developers in 2016 to build a retail hub on the site, between the SuperValue supermarket and the town square.

Last week, those plans fell through, with developers Marcus Darley and Neil McLachlan walking away from the project.

That sparked anger and disappointment among Featherston residents, who blamed the council, and believed that the hub would create jobs and attract more visitors to the town.

Neither the council nor the developers will comment on the specifics of the failed proposal but a joint media statement cited “consent logistics” and an inability to resolve “outstanding issues in order for the resource consent to proceed”.

The main problem with the site appears to be Chorus’ main duct route, which runs under the land from its exchange to Fitzherbert St.

It is protected under the Telecommunications Act and can’t be built over.

“[It] carries our main core fibre and backhaul fibres,” a Chorus spokesperson said.

“The rough costs for relocating the fibre will be in the hundreds of thousands.”

Chorus has offered to meet the council onsite to discuss the matter.

Acting council chief executive Mark Allingham confirmed that Chorus’ right to access the land was not on the land title, as this was not required by law.

The council found out about the problem some time after October 2017, and has now launched an economic analysis of the land.

South Wairarapa Mayor Viv Napier said the land analysis would be followed up with a community survey to come up with ways the land could be used. Trust House chief executive Allan Pollard said the trust had not been aware of the issue when it owned the land.

“There was never any mention of Chorus or telecommunications . . . we looked at plans for that area for the supermarket and it never came up.”

The council used half the land traded from Trust House to build the town square, opened in October 2016. Many Featherston residents have since said the community did not support the project and the finished space was barely used.

Featherston Ratepayers and Residents Association said the town square took up valuable commercial space.

The vacant section, now rendered unusable unless someone foots the massive bill to move the duct, has sat empty since Chungs supermarket was demolished in 2010.

Residents dubbed the site the ‘shingle pit’ and it looks as though this nickname will be fitting for some time to come.