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Silver lining to stuff-up

PHOTO/FILE

Report on lemon land avoids playing blame game

STEVE RENDLE and HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Dead-slow bureaucracy may have saved South Wairarapa District Council costly embarrassment over attempts to sell its troubled Fitzherbert St property in Featherston.

Developer Marcus Darley wanted to buy the land, at 57 Fitzherbert St, to build a commercial hub in the town, but withdrew from the process in April after issues were identified with parking and loading zone requirements, among other issues.

But the most costly issue would have been the presence of fibre optic cables, only identified in February this year after a street-view photograph of a manhole alerted a Chorus manager to their presence.

It would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to move the cables before any development could go ahead.

In an independent review of the council’s history regarding the land, Christopher Hodson QC was critical of the process after a purchase and sale agreement had been signed with Darley, in September 2016.

“It is correct that had the existence of the cable been known at the outset then it must have been appreciated that the land could not be sold for development until a solution had been reached with Chorus,” his report states.

Council chief executive Paul Crimp wrote a summary report of the council’s actions and decisions involving the land since acquiring it in a land swap with Trust House in 2010.

South Wairarapa Mayor Viv Napier said Hodson had done a “thorough job”, going through many documents, which included research and information supplied by members of the public.

“I think it’s a very fair summation of the huge amount of information that he had to go through.”

She said the development could have progressed with no knowledge of the cable duct, and that could have posed more problems in the future.

“There had been various people who looked at the easements, various lots of lawyers, and [the cable duct] hadn’t materialised in anything.”

The council initially contacted Chorus to discuss capping a sewer line, for which easements existed across Chorus land.

The company’s stakeholder operations manager Tama Tawhai wanted to know more about what was planned in the development.

“A street-view photograph of the site alerted Mr Tawhai to the presence of a Telecom manhole . . . he advised the presence of underground communications cables within the land covered the by easement,” Crimp’s summary report states.

“These were under the provisions of the Telecommunications Act 2001 and he noted they did not actually require the benefit of the easement to be there.”

When Darley walked away from the project, the Featherston community blamed the council.

After public pressure, an independent reviewer was brought in to analyse the council’s involvement with the land since 2010.

Hodson was to present his findings to the council today.

He was satisfied Crimp’s report was “an accurate history of events” regarding the land, but was also critical of a council letter to Darley in March.

“What the letter lacked was any indication of apology for council’s delays nor any suggestion of council co-operation.

“It is fair to say that the chief executive had in his mind that all matters were capable of resolution [the fibre optic issue was not then fully known] with goodwill at the intended meeting.

“The letter did not convey this view.”

Napier said the council was working closely with Chorus to come up with solutions for the future use of the land.

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