ODT 2012.3

Editorial, photos and pictures of persons related to articles are those published by the ODT and available from its online content at the links provided. Break out quotes and voting information amended in table format are my tweaks.

Drive set to reopen next year


By Debbie Porteous on Tue, 30 Oct 2012

For a brief moment, after 90 minutes’ debate, it seemed as if a final decision on John Wilson Ocean Dr had finally been made – albeit one that would cost ratepayers $160,000.

Then Dunedin city councillors entered an hour-long discussion on what speed limit should be set for the upgraded road.

That decision, which could potentially add tens of thousands to the cost of the project, was left on the table for a 17th report on the matter from council staff … and the debate lives on.

As it stands, the council yesterday decided the road would reopen to vehicles between 11am and 3pm on weekdays from early next year.

Councillors voted 8-6 in favour of Cr Bill Acklin’s proposal to go with “option 4” from staff, to reseal the road, install a 5m-wide carriageway with a 50kmh speed limit, a 4m-wide shared pedestrian/cycle path and separate them with a low concrete barrier.

A 13-1 vote reduced vehicle access hours of 9am-3pm proposed by Cr Acklin, to 11am-3pm.

The proposals altered decisions made by councillors last November.

Decision made, councillors then spent another hour discussing a speed limit bylaw subcommittee recommendation to reduce the speed limit on the road to 20kmh, before resolving to receive a report on the implications of that, by the council’s next meeting on December 10.

Yesterday’s discussion started with news from staff that the New Zealand Transport Agency was no longer going to subsidise the project, meaning the proposed option would cost the council $160,000 rather than the $53,000 budgeted for.

Councillors voted 8-6 to find the other $107,000 from other council budgets, with those opposed raising concerns about what else would miss out, and whether the community should get a say.

Several decisions have been made about the road’s future, but none has stuck since it was closed indefinitely in 2008, following a two-year closure for the installation of a sewerage outfall pipe.

“It’s been through the wringer so many times, it’s making a laughing stock of the council,” Cr Acklin said.

“I really urge us to get to the end of this and bite the bullet …”

Cr Lee Vandervis said councillors had done nothing about the road for so long, it was probably “the most acute public embarrassment in the history of the city council”.

He did not necessarily agree with it, but thought the proposed option would appeal to all parties.

Cr John Bezett said he agreed, probably for the first time, with Cr Vandervis.

Cr Neil Collins called the issue a “long, sorry saga that had more plots and sub-plots than a Greek tragedy”.

“Every time we discuss, it something comes up to delay people using that strip of land,” Cr Collins said.

It was the hardest issue she had dealt with at the council, Cr Kate Wilson said.

“Despite many people thinking the stadium was hard, this was far, far harder.”

She preferred the road would stay closed and was concerned it might not be a sound investment as it could well end up closed anyway for reasons “I don’t want to dwell on”.

The road was briefly opened in 2009, and closed two weeks later, after a death in the area.

Crs Acklin, Bezett, Syd Brown, Collins, Paul Hudson, Andrew Noone, Vandervis and Colin Weatherall voted in support of the proposals.

Crs Jinty MacTavish, Chris Staynes, Teresa Stevenson, Richard Thomson, Wilson and Mayor Dave Cull voted against them.

Cr Fliss Butcher was absent.

Cr Thomson said he was previously supportive of a compromise, but was “acutely disappointed” Cr Acklin had changed the position agreed in November last year without consultation.

Cr Stevenson said councillors should not be “biting the bullet” just to get rid of the embarrassment, and Cr MacTavish said she was concerned the proposals directly contradicted promotion of the area as a pedestrian precinct, which councillors had last November agreed to support. She was also unhappy about using unbudgeted funding for the road work.

She said she would be uncomfortable taking dogs or children along the path with cars travelling at 50kmh right beside her.

She latter tweeted: “For all the times I am proud to be a councillor, moments like this make me acutely embarrassed to be associated with such awful decision making.”

Council general manager operations Tony Avery said the executive management team would find the money from other budgets while staff worked out how to stage the work in a manner that accommodated any speed limit changes, if those were required after November’s council meeting.

Constructing the road so speeds stayed around a posted limit of 20kmh could potentially cost significantly more, he said.

Staff will prepare a report on the possibility of Ski Dogs New Zealand installing a training strip on the road.

Mayor sees red over Vandervis questions


By Chris Morris on Tue, 30 Oct 2012

Sparks flew as Mayor Dave Cull and Cr Lee Vandervis clashed repeatedly over debt and dividends at yesterday’s Dunedin City Council meeting.

In what at times resembled a running battle, an angry Mr Cull eventually accused Cr Vandervis of giving in to his “obsession” and threatened to prevent him from speaking.

The pair found themselves at loggerheads over reports detailing Dunedin City Holdings Ltd’s latest financial results and the council’s annual report.

DCHL recorded a $5 million loss, but still delivered $23.2 million in dividends, interest and subvention payments to the council and Dunedin Venues Ltd.

Cr Vandervis attacked the figures at yesterday’s meeting, claiming the entire $23.2 million – which helped keep council rates increases to a minimum – had been funded from loans.

That was because DCHL’s distribution “pretty much” matched new borrowing recorded on the companies’ books during the same period, he argued.

Without it, the council’s 4.9% rates rise would actually be 25%, he claimed.

That prompted Mr Cull to interject, warning Cr Vandervis to “stick to the facts”, as his claims were “not true” and impugned the integrity of those writing the reports.

Cr Vandervis persisted, prompting another retort from Mr Cull, who pointed out borrowing by DCHL or its companies did not mean the loans were used only to fund dividends.

“I warn you, you are putting falsehoods in front of the public and I won’t have it,” the Mayor said.

Cr Vandervis continued, saying an absence of clear information in the reports made it “extremely difficult” for ratepayers to assess the finances of the companies and the council. He appealed for help from Audit New Zealand audit director Ian Lothian, who was seated with council staff, saying the council had a “severe problem” presenting information.

Mr Lothian did not reply, but Cr Richard Thomson did, attacking Cr Vandervis’ analysis as “so simplistic as to be misleading” before reading out a page in DCHL’s report detailing company debt figures.

Yesterday’s exchanges came two months after Cr Vandervis made similar claims DCHL was continuing to borrow for its dividend payments. The suggestion was ruled out at the time by DCHL chairman Denham Shale, who said the practice ceased on July 1, making this financial year the first without debt-funded dividends.

He reiterated that position when presenting DCHL’s results to media last week, although Mr Cull yesterday conceded it was clear some of the last $23.2 million distribution was debt-funded.

He did not say how much, but described it as a “relatively insignificant amount” compared with Cr Vandervis’ claims.

Councillors voted to accept the DCHL report, but the heated exchanges continued when discussion turned to the council’s 2011-12 annual report. It stated consolidated council debtreached $616 million by June 30 but was to start falling from 2013-14.

Cr Vandervis labelled the claims “overly optimistic or outright blind”, as debt levels would actually remain almost flat initially before declining after “two or three” years. After that, debt repayment would depend on the future decisions of councillors.

Cr Vandervis’ critique continued as he turned to the rest of the report’s contents, but Mr Cull appeared to have had enough. He interjected again, warning Cr Vandervis for straying off-topic and threatened to curtail his speaking rights.

“Your obsession is getting the better of you,” Mr Cull said.

“Now, last chance.”

Cr Vandervis instead opted to take his seat, leaving other councillors to praise the report, which Mr Cull said showed the council had confronted debt and other challenges and had a lot to be proud of.

Mr Cull concluded with one last parting shot directed at Cr Vandervis claiming a 25% rates rise had been disguised by DCHL borrowing. Any rates increase, he said, was what people ended up paying.

“They are paying 4.9%. That’s it.”

Praise for releasing official information


By Debbie Porteous on Sat, 27 Oct 2012

The Dunedin City Council’s decision to publish publicly its responses to requests for official information has drawn praise from Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem, who says it is behaving in a healthy democratic manner.

Dame Beverley said yesterday she hoped more councils would soon follow suit.

The council has started publishing responses to requests made to it under the Local Government Official Information Act it deems to be of public interest.

Mayor Dave Cull said the decision to publish the responses monthly was the second stage of a three-part drive to increase council transparency that started with the regular release of items previously discussed in non-public parts of council meetings.

Releasing the information would be more efficient because often there were multiple requests for the same information, Mr Cull said.

Also, people could see the full information provided and not just the taste they often got in the media, and that it would, hopefully, alter the perception that because something was requested it was being kept a secret.

“My answer to that is it’s not, and that information should be available as a matter of course.”

Which was why the next phase of the transparency drive would be the proactive release of information the council believed was likely to be of interest to people, for example credit card spending and travel or legal costs, Mr Cull said.

Council governance manager Sandy Graham said not every Official Information response would be placed on the site, to ensure Privacy Act considerations, such as ensuring those seeking information could not be identified if they did not wish to be, were met. If responses had no public interest, they would not be published.

Individual requesters’ privacy would be protected, but media requests would always be published, as would responses to public organisations and members of Parliament.

More than 30 requests and their responses dealt with since July have been posted on the council’s website already.

They constitute about half of the responses completed in that time.

Most requests are from various media, three are from members of Parliament, three are from Cr Lee Vandervis, and most of the rest are from unidentified members of the public. Seventy-one requests in total were lodged with the council in the three months from July to September.

Dame Beverley said yesterday it was a great initiative by the council.

The publication of information went back to the genesis of the legislation, which was to increase openness and transparency, she said.

Unless there was a compelling security, privacy, commercial or other reason to withhold information, everything should be published.

“It informs the democratic discourse and gives people the basis on which to make informed submissions to those processes.

“And it supports the growth of trust in government, and ultimately that is what it is all about.”

Insulation scheme gets approval


By Debbie Porteous on Thu, 18 Oct 2012

Better late than never was the sentiment expressed by Dunedin city councillors yesterday as they approved a modified scheme for ratepayers to borrow money from the council to retro-install insulation or heating.

The targeted rate scheme was meant to be operating by July and more than 100 people had contacted the council seeking further information about it. It was announced in September it had been delayed because of problems with the way it was to be run.

In a report considered by the council’s finance, strategy and development committee yesterday, council energy manager Neville Auton said staff felt councillors needed to consider any necessary changes before going any further.

The problems mainly concerned risk and liability implications for the council that had been discovered. Staff proposed they could largely be addressed by the council directly contracting service providers to undertake the work and securing the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) subsidy on behalf of the applicant ratepayer.

Under the modified scheme, based on the model used for several years by the Greater Wellington Regional Council, ratepayers who want insulation or heating fitted will get quotes from EECA-approved suppliers.

The suppliers work with the EECA to determine what subsidies apply under the Warm Up New Zealand programme, and the ratepayer applies to the council to borrow up to $5000 to cover costs over and above the subsidy.

The council then engages the supplier to do the installation.

Successful applicants will repay the council via a targeted rate over a 10-year period, or shorter if wished.

Mr Auton’s report noted a contract between the council and the ratepayer would say the council was not liable for defective work or products but, in the case where an installation company closed during the period of the loan, liability could fall on the council, although the risk of that was low.

The changes meant insurance, interest, administration and set-up costs would rise, pushing the interest rate successful applicants would be charged up 1% to 8%, to ensure the scheme was cost-neutral to the council.

Councillors had earlier agreed to borrow up to $2.25 million for a trial of the scheme.

Councillors were also informed fewer EECA subsidies were left for community services card holders and clean heat installation, and that the programme was due to end in 2013, and there was no guarantee it would be extended in the next Budget.

They were presented the choice of continuing with the modified scheme or not proceeding at all.

Only Cr Lee Vandervis opposed the idea of going ahead.

He said it came too late, as the EECA programme was coming to an end, and people could easily get a cheaper loan elsewhere.

Cr Richard Thomson disputed that and said bank loans often cost more in the end and not everyone could easily get one anyway, especially probably the people the council wanted to target with the scheme, such as the elderly who may have already paid their mortgage, or low-income homeowners.

He and Crs Jinty MacTavish, Teresa Stevenson, Fliss Butcher, Chris Staynes, Kate Wilson and Mayor Dave Cull expressed their support for the scheme.

If the full council approved the scheme at its October 29 meeting, application forms for the scheme would be available as soon as possible afterwards, a council spokesman said.

Water supply connection could be costly for council


By Chris Morris on Wed, 17 Oct 2012

A debate over water reached boiling point yesterday, as Dunedin city councillors approved a farmer’s request to take water from an ageing council pipeline.

That was despite concerns the decision could create a precedent, complicate planning for the security of the city’s water supply and even lead to a $25 million bill for ratepayers.

The debate at yesterday’s infrastructure services committee meeting came as councillors considered a request from Clarks Junction farmer Jim MacDonald for a new out-of-zone water connection.

Mr MacDonald, from Mt Gowrie Station, already had two water connections on his property, but wanted a third to the Deep Creek pipe as a back-up for stock water during peak summer periods.

He made his case at Monday’s public forum, threatening to block council access to the pipe unless his request was accepted.

However, council acting water and waste services manager Laura McElhone told yesterday’s committee meeting the pipeline – and the nearby Deep Stream pipeline – were to be replaced by a single pipeline from 2036.

That was part of the council’s new security of supply strategy, unveiled last year, which had allowed $11 million in network spending to be removed from the council’s long-term budgets.

The council had allowed some historic connections for farmers in the area, but those decisions had proven to be short-sighted, made at a timeof limited council strategic capability, she said.

Stock water connections could be cancelled by changing council bylaws, but the process would be “interesting”, she said.

“Legally, with a couple of hoops to jump through … we can disconnect stock water,” she said.

Allowing Mr MacDonald’s connection would encourage other farmers in the area to seek the same deal, and each additional connection would make the eventual decommissioning of the pipeline more complicated, she warned.

However, unless the pipeline was decommissioned, the entire supply strategy would need to be reconsidered, and retaining two pipelines would cost the council an extra $25 million over time, she said.

Technical issues involved in the connection to the pipeline could be overcome, but there was an “incremental risk” of more failures along the pipeline with each new connection, she said.

“At some point, we have to say this is the last one.”

The questioning and debate that followed continued for nearly two hours, and grew heated as Cr Lee Vandervis objected to committee chairman Cr Andrew Noone’s handling of the meeting.

Councillors eventually voted to allow the connection, but with conditions including an acknowledgement the supply would cease if the pipeline was decommissioned.

Other conditions set agreements on connection costs and other charges, and required council staff to work with Mr MacDonald on a more appropriate access agreement.

Mayor Dave Cull was satisfied the risks identified – including the “scariest” prospect of additional costs – had been addressed.

“Clearly, we have to have some mechanisms in there to prevent that [extra costs], and we do.”

However, Cr Vandervis argued the case against the deal was “clear-cut”.

“We are potentially buying enormous amounts of trouble … and potentially enormous expense.”

The decision came after councillors considered a request from the owners of a Dunedin bed and breakfast business – Arden Country House – for an out-of-zone connection to the city’s northern pipeline.

The owners had lost access to their water bore supply on a neighbour’s property after a dispute with the neighbour, councillors heard.

Ms McElhone said the decision was one for councillors, but warned it could encourage further development along the pipeline and represent “the thin end of the wedge”.

While the council could terminate stock water supplies, it could not do the same for domestic water supplies, once granted, she said.

Councillors eventually voted to leave any decision until after council staff sought further information, with a report to follow, but only after Cr Noone used his casting vote to confirm the move.

Chinese Garden comes under council scrutiny


By Debbie Porteous on Tue, 16 Oct 2012

Questions and suggestions were the order of the day for the manager of the Dunedin Chinese Garden, Margo Reid, when she appeared before city councillors yesterday to discuss the garden’s financial future.

The community development committee was considering a progress report from Ms Reid on how the garden was going to deal with falling visitor numbers and greater reliance on ratepayer contributions to cover costs.

The committee met after the regular public forum, at which Dunedin Ratepayers Association president Lyndon Weggery told councillors ratepayers were disappointed with a two-page report produced by Ms Reid two years after staff were asked to investigate merging the garden with Toitu Otago Settlers Museum.

The report showed little had been done in that time to address the issue of increasing amounts of ratepayer dollars needed to keep the garden going, Mr Weggery said.

“Sorry people, but … this short report is a joke.”

When the council agreed to take on the garden, the arrangement was that ratepayers would fund 60% of the operating costs and the garden would cover the rest from ticket and shop sales and room hire.

However, this year, it is expected a ratepayer contribution of 69%, or $585,000, will be required as visitor numbers to the garden continue to decrease.

In her report, Ms Reid said the staffing budget could be cut by $55,000 by working more closely with the museum, and staff were looking into commercial options.

She declined to discuss the details because people’s jobs were affected and, she said, it would not be sensible to put anything forward until the museum was fully operational.

Commercial options were also yet to be canvassed, so she could not elaborate at this stage.

She said she understood it had “taken a while” to get to this stage, but the councillors’ request “had not been actioned immediately” and garden staff were “catching up” on it.

Committee chairman Cr Bill Acklin said garden staff had not been doing nothing in the preceding 20 months. The garden’s operating and staff costs had been cut and further potential savings had been identified.

To a question from Cr Lee Vandervis, Ms Reid said she expected visitor numbers to rise when the museum reopened, and further when the old Dunedin Prison was redeveloped and the warehouse precinct was improved.

Last year there were about 28,000 visitors, and about 40,000 visitors a year would be ideal.

But operating costs had been cut about as low as they could go, she told him.

She told Cr Andrew Noone the garden recognised the opportunity cruise passengers represented and was actively courting them by handing out pamphlets as they arrived in town.

Cr Jinty MacTavish asked if ticket sales at the museum and a physical link between the buildings were being considered, to which Ms Reid said everything was part of her review, but a lot relied on waiting until the museum was fully operational again.

Cr MacTavish said it seemed “bizarre” some council-funded facilities were free when others charged entry and asked if the public had been asked their views on the barriers to visiting the garden. Ms Reid said two surveys were under way.

Cr Richard Thomson said the garden’s operational fit with the museum should have been part of the museum’s redevelopment from the start, and arrangements should be expedited, rather than something staff were “waiting to do”.

He was also concerned the public debate focused too much on finding cost savings, when it should focus on improving the marketing of the garden.

Deputy mayor Chris Staynes agreed and said better marketing of the city’s attractions was a priority of the economic development strategy, while council chief executive Paul Orders said any increase in city marketing budgets would have to be considered as part of next year’s annual plan.

Stars align to grand effect


By Nigel Benson on Mon, 15 Oct 2012


Billy Bragg.

But, I defer to reviewer Ian Chapman’s more informed opinion.

The confetti from the seventh Otago Festival of the Arts is still being swept up this morning.

The event has certainly had some highs.

The festival has been bringing truly world-class artists to Dunedin since 2000 and it has done that again this year.

It also puts Dunedin on the world map. I’m still in contact with artists from the 2006 festival who will never forget their time here.

We are an attractive proposition to international performance artists. An exotic badge of honour. The Vienna Boys Choir was fair chuffed to perform so far from home.

The Otago Festival of the Arts was launched in 2000 to celebrate the excellent and extraordinary.

New director Alec Wheeler always had a tough act to follow in founding director Nicholas McBryde.

The festival had some tough breaks this year, too, not least with the unco-operative weather. Many evenings I had to reluctantly drag myself out into a wintry night.

And, with the Dunedin Town Hall and Glenroy Auditorium out of action, alternative new venues had to be drummed up.

The Dunedin Public Art Gallery lift breaking down on the eve of the Late Night Festival Club was also unfortunate. It resumed its ups and downs on Friday but, by then, the damage was done.

It not only denied access to many older people and those with mobility issues, but prevented artists from using instruments like pianos.

It was a shame slow initial ticket sales made the trust board blink and pull the pin on Carnival of Souls.

Festival tickets are not cheap and our innate Presbyterian parsimony runs deep. But, you would pay three times as much to see some of these acts overseas. Try getting a Vienna Boys Choir concert ticket for 40-odd bucks anywhere else in the world.

To grow, the festival has to be accessible and the free Fortune Theatre production Play was a wonderful initiative.

Traditional favourites, such as St Paul’s at One, also once again proved popular.

I’m not a religious person, but I love going to concerts at St Paul’s Cathedral. I always seem to travel to a very special place when I’m sitting in there.

It is a precious gift from our forefathers.

We do have an amazing arts culture here and the Otago Festival of the Arts is the pinnacle of that.

But, it is vital that there is a very clear delineation between the arts festival and the annual Dunedin Fringe Festival, which is on again in four months.

Otherwise, they will inevitably end up competing for the same acts.

If that happens, the format is doomed.

The secret to a great festival is to be constantly striving to up the ante. To make each and every festival a little bit better and more polished than its predecessor.

That has to be the goal.

The test now, after the bills are paid and numbers counted, is to concentrate on the 2014 festival.

This is, after all, our celebration of the excellent and extraordinary.

Nigel Benson’s pick of the crop

Sexiest act: Revolver by Fuse Circus was both risky and risque.

Star of the show: Hahn-Bin, Amadeus Leopold … call him what you will. The Korean violinist was simply world class.

Best set: Hard to go past Revolver at Sammy’s, but Play in the London Blitz rubble of the Standard Insurance Building pushed it close.

Biggest smile: Singer Whirimako Black after being given a couple of muttonbirds at the end of her performance.

Second-biggest smile: Vienna Boys chorister Felix (13) after being given an All Blacks poster.

Long way from home: Dunedin was the furthest the Vienna Boys Choir had ever performed from Austria and they were pretty proud about that.

Funniest moment: Festival director Alec Wheeler trying to drag trust chairman Malcolm Farry into a broiling mass of half-naked Brazilian dancers. Never. Going. To. Happen.

Biggest regret: Not seeing Amadeus Leopold’s Till Dawn Sunday. I sat through a rehearsal and spent a bit of time with old Amadeus, so skipped off to another show that night. I deeply regret it. By all accounts his concert was a festival highlight. Here are just a couple of comments I heard:

“The performance of the decade. I was moved to streaming tears” – violinist and Dunedin City councillor Lee Vandervis.

“Without any doubt the best violin performance I’ve ever seen” – art critic Peter Entwisle.

Surprise hit: The Fortune Theatre production Play was a very clever and skilful piece of theatre. And it was free.

Could do better: The kapa haka welcome for the international guests at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery was lame.

The festival is all about celebrating culture and we should be proudly showing off our own.

Waiter outfits just didn’t cut it in this company.

It was hard not to compare it with the stunning, costumed kapa haka which greeted the All Blacks at Dunedin airport last month.

Most embarrassing moment: In a story on Samoan play Where We Once Belonged I wrote the Samoan name for Europeans in my notebook as palagi, but managed to type it into the computer as pagali. Where do you hide?

Most inspirational: Hatched. A beautiful, talented, deaf woman is rejected by the Australian Ballet and becomes a puppeteer.

Melbourne performance artist Asphyxia is a special person and Hatched was a special production. The final show yesterday afternoon was a sellout.

Biggest disappointment: I was woolgathering in a wonderful place at poet Brian Turner’s reading at St Paul’s Cathedral. THEN A CELLPHONE WENT OFF BESIDE ME. The moment was instantly lost. Cheers for that.

Most colourful: Tumbling, spinning, jumping. Ho hum. But Bahia of All Colours by dance troupe Bale Folclorico da Bahia was simply stunning. The Brazilians were quite incredible. Fearless, exuberant and all the time with big, genuine smiles on their faces. These were incredibly gifted people doing something they adored. Excellent and extraordinary.

Best festival moment: The spontaneous dance party created by the Brazilian dance troupe and Samoan performers from Where We Once Belonged at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery after the kapa haka welcome.

Most touching moment: A woman with an intellectual disability was so excited by the dancing Brazilians that she joined in. She was immediately swept up into the arms of a broadly grinning Brazilian dancer.

Settlement a ‘gutless climbdown’


By Chris Morris on Mon, 1 Oct 2012

The decision to settle a defamation claim against Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull by two former Otago Rugby Football Union officials is a “gutless climbdown”, a Dunedin city councillor says.

Cr Lee Vandervis yesterday criticised the settlement which resulted in Mr Cull apologising to Wayne Graham and Laurie Mains – despite not admitting liability – and the Dunedin City Council paying $29,000 towards their legal costs.

Some councillors contacted yesterday would not comment, citing the sensitivity surrounding the issue, but others expressed relief the matter was now closed.

Cr Vandervis said the claim should have been fought in court, despite legal advice warning of the potential risk to ratepayers.

He and Cr Fliss Butcher opposed the settlement when it was considered during the non-public part of a council meeting on September 17, but were outvoted by their colleagues.

“I don’t believe that they should ever have got a dollar out of us that they didn’t have to fight for through the courts,” he said.

“I consider it a fairly gutless response to have actually just taken the legal way out.

“To me, there was a moral question and a political question, and those questions weren’t addressed.”

He did not accept the legal advice presented to councillors and believed Messrs Graham and Mains should have been told “to do their absolute best”.

“They claimed to be going for $1 million and settled for $29,000. I don’t think they believe they had a case either.”

The legal action came after Mr Cull criticised the performance of the former ORFU board in a Radio New Zealand interview on March 15, the day after the council agreed to wipe a $480,000 bill owed by the ORFU.

It was confirmed on Friday a settlement had been reached, with a copy of the agreement and other documents released, including Mr Cull’s apology for any “distress or harm” caused to either man.

Cr Butcher – who also opposed the deal – could not be contacted yesterday, but Cr Kate Wilson said she was “relieved it’s all over” so councillors could move on.

“I think it’s a distraction we don’t need and it’s very unfortunate.

“I think people want us to focus on much more important things in Dunedin.”

However, she believed Mr Cull’s comments had reflected the frustrations around the table during the ORFU bail-out debate.

Cr Teresa Stevenson agreed, although the wording he chose “was not as diplomatic as it could have been”.

She accepted the deal was “the most prudent option”, although “I couldn’t say I was happy with the situation”.

“But I would have been much more unhappy if it had cost the ratepayers a lot more.”

The decision by Messrs Graham and Mains to seek damages in the first place – and so soon after the union had been rescued from liquidation – was “unfortunate”, Cr Stevenson said.

“It causes a greater cost for the ratepayer when the ratepayer has already put a considerable amount of money into this matter.”

Crs Syd Brown and Richard Thomson declined to comment, while Cr Neil Collins said he had views “but we’re told not to share them”.

Other councillors did not return calls.

Defamation action settled after Cull apologises


By Chris Morris on Sat, 29 Sep 2012

  • The letter can be read at ODT Online here.

A $1 million legal threat against Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull has been lifted after a settlement – involving an apology and legal costs – with former Otago Rugby Football Union members Laurie Mains and Wayne Graham.

Mr Cull wrote to the two men offering an apology for any “distress or harm” caused, and the council agreed to contribute $29,000 towards the pair’s legal costs, a copy of the settlement agreement said.

The pair began defamation proceedings against Mr Cull in April, after the mayor questioned the performance of the union’s former board in a Radio New Zealand interview on March 15.

Messrs Graham and Mains – the board’s chairman and deputy chairman until earlier this year – said in a joint statement yesterday the matter had been “settled amicably” after a “genuine apology” by Mr Cull.

A copy of his September 24 letter to the pair was released by them yesterday.

It showed Mr Cull apologised if his strongly-worded comments had been interpreted as “personally critical of either of you or any individual member” of the board.

“I regret that I did not make it clear that my comments were not directed at any individuals, and apologise to you for any personal inference that has been taken from my comments, and for any distress or harm this may have caused you,” he wrote.

Mr Cull declined to comment yesterday, but a copy of the settlement agreement and other documents were released to the Otago Daily Times following an official information request.

The settlement showed the parties acknowledged Mr Cull did not admit liability, but had decided to settle the dispute.

Councillors approved the $29,000 payment in the non-public part of last week’s Dunedin City Council meeting, with Crs Lee Vandervis and Fliss Butcher voting against.

The “pragmatic approach” came after legal advice and was to “minimise potential risk and cost to the council”, the meeting’s minutes showed.

The ODT first reported in April the threat of legal action against Mr Cull.

Court documents later showed Messrs Graham and Mains were each seeking $500,000 in general damages, unspecified “special damages”, plus interest and costs, for alleged defamation.

Mr Cull’s comments came after the council agreed to wipe $480,000 owed to it and Dunedin Venues Management Ltd by the ORFU as part of a wider bail-out that saved the union from liquidation.

Messrs Graham and Mains, in their statement, said they were pleased the outcome acknowledged they were recent ORFU appointments, had inherited major issues facing the union and had “done their utmost to remedy a difficult situation”.

Mr Cull’s letter to them said he was aware both had received “significant adverse comment” following his comments.

That was “regrettable” and not intended, Mr Cull wrote.

He acknowledged the contributions made by both men – in time and money – to rescue the union from liquidation and help repay small creditors.

“I do not question the honesty or sincerity of either of you in this process.”

Mr Cull hoped both sides could now “put this behind us” – a sentiment echoed by Messrs Mains and Graham.

Two councillors support stricter donations law


By Chris Morris on Sat, 29 Sep 2012

Tougher rules proposed to police anonymous donations in local politics do not go far enough, two Dunedin city councillors say.

The comments from Crs Lee Vandervis and Jinty MacTavish came after Local Government Minister David Carter announced plans for a new $1500 cap on anonymous donations – among other changes – for local body elections.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said the move was unlikely to have a major influence on local body elections in Dunedin next year, given the small part donations played in financing previous campaigns.

However, Cr MacTavish, one of his Greater Dunedin colleagues, said she would support a lower cap, of between $300 and $500, to promote greater transparency.

Cr Vandervis – an unsuccessful mayoral candidate in 2010 – went further, arguing anonymous donations should be scrapped to force all those financing campaigns into the open.

“The source, and the amount, I believe quite frankly just should be out there.”

Mr Carter announced the changes earlier this month to address “growing public concern” over the transparency of anonymous donations.

That followed an outcry over the $50,000 donation solicited from internet millionaire Kim Dotcom by John Banks in 2010 – and later listed as anonymous – when Mr Banks was vying to regain the Auckland mayoralty.

In Dunedin, only 11 city council candidates declared donations in 2010, mostly for small amounts and few of them anonymous.

Cr MacTavish was one of the few who did, relying on small contributions solicited through her website – totalling $5750 but including $3000 from family members – to cover her $6444 election expenses.

Existing rules meant she was required to declare only larger amounts, but she supported moves to promote greater transparency.

“I think it is really important that people know, broadly speaking, who’s funding who’s campaign.

“I think that’s something they need to know, in order to have faith in the system.”

That was particularly true of more expensive mayoral campaigns, rather than for smaller contributions to councillors’ election bids, she believed.

“Does anyone really care where the $15 came from? … I think you can get to the point of ridiculousness with it.”

Mr Cull said the changes would not affect Cr MacTavish’s “Obama-style” fundraising or the wider Greater Dunedin campaign, which was otherwise largely self-funded.

Mr Cull spent $13,517 on his campaign, including just $1500 in donations, which was well behind then-incumbent mayor Peter Chin, who spent $43,446 of his own money on his unsuccessful re-election campaign.

He also believed those prepared to stump up large sums to support Dunedin candidates “probably don’t mind if their identity is known”.

Cr Vandervis – who came third behind Messrs Cull and Chin in 2010 – spent $8600 and received $2074 in donations.

He declared the source of all donations, and believed others should have to do the same.

Any capped tolerance for anonymous donations would be “just another rule for people to weasel around”, he said.

“People can want anonymity until they go blue in the face … Having things not able to be anonymous I think would be ideal.”

The Local Electoral Act set campaign spending limits based on population, and in Dunedin meant mayoral candidates were limited to $55,000 and city councillor candidates in the central ward to $50,000.

Candidates had to declare all expenses and campaign income following each election, including the names of each donor and the amount given.

However, anonymous donations were also allowed, and needed only to be declared – with the source listed as anonymous – if the amount received was more than $1000, the Act said.

The changes announced by Mr Carter would see a new Local Electoral Amendment Bill introduced to Parliament within weeks, and changes in place ahead of next year’s local body elections in October.

Conflicts list proposed

Dunedin city councillors could soon be asked to declare their conflicts of interest in a new register.

Dunedin City Council staff are considering a new voluntary register that would invite the city’s elected representatives to declare the businesses in which they had a stake, the boards they sat on or any other relevant interests.

Dunedin City Council governance manager Sandy Graham said initial discussions were under way, and although no decisions had yet been made, the new system could be in place later this year.

The system would be based on one implemented by the Wellington City Council, which listed the council appointments and business interests of each member and their partner or spouse.

Property developer advocates patience


By Mark Price on Mon, 10 Sep 2012

“Patience” is what is required for property developers, according to Delta’s joint venture partner in Luggate Park, Jim Boult.

Mr Boult, of Christchurch, was reluctant to discuss with the Otago Daily Times details of his arrangement with Delta except to reaffirm the joint-venture arrangement and say: “If you want to be in the property business, you have got to be very patient.”

Delta invested $4 million in a 50-50 stake in stage two of the subdivision in 2008 but last week, the ODT reported Delta was understood to be considering a “write-down” of up to $9 million in its investment at Luggate Park and also at Jacks Point, Queenstown.

Dunedin City Councillor Lee Vandervis described it as “an appalling property purchase”.

Asked if he had undertaken a similar write-down, Mr Boult said: “I’m a private owner. I’m Jim Boult. I’m obviously not in the same boat they are in.”

The stage two land in which Delta has an interest is yet to be developed, although stage one of Luggate Park has streets and services and some new homes.

The decline in the value of those sections since they were first offered for sale was spelled out by three section owners spoken to by the ODT.

In 2009-10, Graeme and Yvonne Perkins, of Dunedin, identified a half-hectare section they were keen to buy in an area where sections were advertised at $285,000.

Mr Perkins said they watched and waited as the price came down.

“We saw our one come down to $180,000 and then we waited again and we got it for $135,000.””They’ve come way back down and it was worth waiting.

Someone must have lost [a lot] of money.”

Another Cardrona resident, Woody McMartin, said he paid $128,000 for a section that had been for sale at one point for $280,000.

And Graham McArthur and partner Deb Wilson, of Dunedin, first looked at a half-hectare section at Luggate Park when it was priced at more than $280,000.

When they bought it at auction, they were the only bidders aside from the owner and got it for $151,000.

Mr McArthur believed initial interest in the subdivision might have been boosted by the prospect of Contact Energy building the Luggate dam, and creating a lake in the vicinity of the subdivision.

His section was one that would have had a lake view but by the time he bought it, the dam idea had already begun to fade.

Mr Boult did not agree prices had halved at Luggate Park and believed changes in values there were no different to property developments elsewhere.

“It’s not special. It’s no different from any other property.”

Asked if there was likely to be any development of stage two in the near future, Mr Boult said it depended what the market was like.

“Clearly it’s not at that stage yet. It’s improving. It’s getting better but I say again, you have got to be very patient in the property business.”

No final decision on intersection yet


By Debbie Porteous on Wed, 5 Sep 2012

The temporary arrangements at the intersection of Anzac Ave and Castle St in Dunedin are to remain in place until at least late November, while closing that end of Anzac Ave to through traffic is evaluated.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) is trying to settle on a way to make the intersection safer for road users after the death of a cyclist there last November. In the interim, the layout was altered as a safety measure.

The Dunedin City Council infrastructure services committee voted yesterday to support a resolution from Cr Colin Weatherall that the temporary arrangements remain in place until the NZTA evaluates options for closing the street to through traffic and reports to the committee. Decisions about wider community consultation would be made after that.

The committee was originally asked to consider whether it should consult publicly on making the temporary arrangements permanent or closing the road, but the NZTA state highway manager for Otago and Southland Ian Duncan said the matter was not at that stage, because the options had not yet been investigated.

The point of meeting councillors was to determine if there was support for such an investigation.

The NZTA’s preference was to make the temporary arrangements permanent, but it supported pursuing the closure if that was the council’s preference, he said.

The NZTA owned the intersection and would fund the project.

Cr Lee Vandervis was initially concerned it appeared the NZTA was trying to present the council with a “fait accompli” of making the temporary arrangements permanent, but he agreed with the final resolution to maintain the temporary arrangement in the meantime as long as the NZTA consulted Cadbury, Hall Brothers Transport, the Taieri Gorge Railway and the Otago Farmers Market in its evaluation of any road closure.

Councillors resolved that consultation should also include, but not be limited to, the Road Transport Association, cycling advocates Spokes Dunedin and significant industries using articulated vehicles in the immediate area.

Delta write-down could slash $9m


By Chris Morris on Mon, 3 Sep 2012

Delta is considering a write-down that could result in millions of dollars being wiped off the value of its property investments in Queenstown and Luggate.

The Dunedin City Council-owned company is settling annual accounts before they are made public, together with those of the rest of the Dunedin City Holdings Ltd group, later this month.

The Otago Daily Times has been told the accounts would confirm a write-down in the book value of investments, including properties at Jacks Point, in Queenstown, and at Luggate, bought in 2008 and 2009.

The value of the write-down was up to $9 million, but the figure could change as a result of discussions between DCHL and the Office of the Auditor-general.

Dunedin city councillors were briefed about the details by DCHL representatives last week.

Most councillors were reluctant to comment, citing the confidentiality of the briefing. DCHL chief executive Bevan Dodds would only say accounts were yet to be finalised, and refused further comment.

However, DCHL chairman Denham Shale dismissed questions about the size of any write-down as “rumours”.

Cr Lee Vandervis confirmed the write-down would be announced later in the month, although he said its exact value remained confidential.

He said the write-down being discussed included a drop in the value of properties at Jacks Point, as well as “a substantial, even worse, drop in the value of the Luggate sections”.

It appeared millions of dollars of “ratepayers’ treasure” had been “flushed down the toilet of what was obviously an appalling property purchase decision”, he said.

Delta bought 100 sections at Jacks Point in 2009, the year after taking a 50-50 stake in a 150-lot subdivision in Luggate being developed by Central Otago businessman Jim Boult.

The exact value of the Jacks Point purchases has not been confirmed, but Cr Vandervis understood Delta had invested $8 million in the properties.

A further $4 million was spent on the stake in the Luggate subdivision, the ODT reported at the time.

Delta planned to develop the Jacks Point sections’ infrastructure before on-selling them, and expected the deal would enhance Delta’s profitability “in the medium to long term”, Delta chief executive Grady Cameron said at the time.

It was understood only a handful of the sections had sold, and Mr Cameron did not respond to ODT questions late last week.

Instead, a Delta spokesman would only say, in an email, Mr Shale had “responded on this matter”.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull did not return a call seeking comment, and council chief executive Paul Orders referred questions to DCHL.

Mr Dodds said he was “not close enough” to discuss details of the sales, but believed “some sections are selling” while others remained for sale.

Cr Vandervis said there had been “extremely optimistic comment” the sections might sell for a better price in future.

“Quite frankly, that’s ludicrous,” he said.

Down-time alone means stadium turf must go


Opinion Mon, 3 Sep 2012

During a TV One Close Up interview at the Forsyth Barr Stadium last week, the interviewer, cameraman and I stood on the artificial turf sidelines of the stadium to record the financial folly being contemplated in building another similar stadium in Christchurch.

The cameraman asked the hovering fourth member of our group, a management-mandated minder, if he could take a few steps back on to the Hallowed Turf to widen the shot of the empty south stand in the background.

The minder, a paid stadium employee whose job it was to prevent us from straying into inappropriate areas of the stadium, responded with a polite but flat “No”.

The turf, which had just been mowed in a lovingly precise diagonal criss-cross pattern, is apparently too delicate to withstand the wear associated with six steps of a cameraman.

The answer to the question why spend another million on an artificial turf is not just that we are currently wasting more than that level of ratepayers’ treasure over time on: several specialist groundsmen, specialist mowing machines, turf aeration, watering and fertiliser systems, the monitoring of ambient light spectrum and levels, roof washing to let the right light in, under-roof dew suppression sprayers for the same thing, wind-speed, temperature, relative humidity, and grass-growth monitoring to determine how many days or weeks (depending on weather) are required for The Turf to recover between events.

The Hallowed Turf is ludicrously expensive to try to grow under a roof, but the worst waste is in down-time.

The period of The Turf recovery between events means that most of the time you cannot use the main stadium while you wait for the grass to recover.

If the grass recovery time for a two-hour game is one week, this means that you can not use the pitch for 166 out of 168 hours, or 99% of the time!

Another issue is that The Turf requirement of natural wind movement means that you can not drop the stadium skirts to ground level to keep out the wind or the cold, both of which have made miserable many events at the stadium, including the Elton John concert for those in prone seating areas.

If you assume that the stadium is only to be used for a handful of superstar rugby games each year, then The Turf almost makes sense even if we did have to spend more than $600,000 sewing an artificial Grass-master reinforcing into it to overcome its previously denied weakness when growing under a roof.

The claim has been made that the International Rugby Board will not allow A-grade rugby to be played on a fully artificial turf, but a close look at the IRB rules on permitted playing surfaces does not preclude playing on an artificial turf. Rugby league is happy to play on artificial turf, as is football – in fact, Fifa is discussing paying for an artificial turf here in Dunedin.

The Turf has been just one of many major mistaken decisions around the initial mistaken decision of the stadium itself.

Other unaffordable expenses include: legions of paid staff (500-700 for a big event when Rotary volunteers used to do a good job at Carisbrook), a board of deflectors, insurance (DCC should self-insure), excessive maintenance for guarantee purposes, security contracts requiring bomb disposal and anti-terrorist-trained staff, thousands of freebie rugby tickets for the well-connected, and having anything sincere to say about the ORFU.

Having paid the ORFU $7 million for Carisbrook to bail it out the time before last, we should banish it back to the House of Pain on a cost-covering rental basis until it has learnt humility, honesty, how to share and how to promote good grass-roots rugby.

It is easy to “pokie” scorn at the ORFU, but can you think of any sports organisation in our history that deserves it more?

Having the All Whites as anchor tenants for the stadium with an artificial turf so it could be constantly available between football usage would get over the problem of the stadium being empty most of the time.

None of this deals with the debt, but at least it would get the stadium used without bleeding ratepayers so heavily on running costs.

It is said that there is nothing as boring as watching grass grow.

In Dunedin, there is nothing more unaffordable than watching grass growing in Forsyth Barr Stadium.

• Lee Vandervis is a Dunedin city councillor.

Stadium may get new turf


By Chris Morris on Thu, 23 Aug 2012

A proposal to replace the mixed grass turf inside the Forsyth Barr Stadium with a full artificial turf – at an estimated cost of $1 million – will be considered by a Dunedin City Council subcommittee examining changes to the year-old venue.

However, the idea has prompted a warning from Dunedin Venues Management Ltd chief executive David Davies, who said it could make it harder to attract All Blacks tests and some other top-level sports fixtures.

Cr Lee Vandervis, a member of the council subcommittee, told the Otago Daily Times he would be pushing for the change “very strongly” when the subcommittee met. It was an idea he had raised previously.

The subcommittee would reconvene later this year to consider results of a review of the stadium’s operation, as well as other suggestions to improve the venue’s use.

The stadium uses the Desso GrassMaster system, in which natural turf is reinforced with millions of plastic fibres. It was funded by community grants totalling $655,000.

The turf is designed to be used three times as often as normal grass. It is used at hundreds of stadiums worldwide and has helped Dunedin’s stadium earn rave reviews from players.

However, Cr Vandervis claimed it was also placing “severe constraints” on the venue, and a full artificial turf would cut maintenance costs, while allowing more community use of the venue.

“We could use it every day and not have to worry about the turf.”

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, the chairman of the subcommittee, said there would “clearly” be merit in the proposal, if a surface could be found that suited all sporting codes, cost less to maintain and gave more flexibility.

However, the cost of any change, and whether it would be suitable for international rugby, as well as other groups, needed to be considered.

“I don’t think it’s a silly question at all, but I think you then have to follow on and say what would it mean?”

The proposal would be considered by the subcommittee, along with the views of other stakeholders and the public, before recommendations were presented to the council, Mr Cull said.

That work was expected to begin “in the next month or so”.

“The subcommittee would have to satisfy itself that there were more benefits than downside.”

Mr Davies said the stadium already catered for “significant” community use, and although it was “undoubtedly true” an artificial turf could increase that, other costs also needed to be considered.

Those included installation costs and ongoing maintenance costs, which would need to be the subject of a council feasibility study.

“I’ve looked after plastic pitches previously, and they aren’t without maintenance costs.

“There is a requirement for them to be kept properly, to make sure that the surface is kept up to scratch.”

Some events could also be discouraged from using the venue, he warned.

“I don’t think anybody in the NRL, for example, plays on a plastic pitch. I’m not sure any of the All Blacks’ major games are played on plastic pitches.”

NZRU staff were not willing to comment yesterday, but pointed to International Rugby Board regulation 22, which allowed artificial surfaces to be used, provided steps were followed to ensure required standards were met.

That included testing the playing surface before use, regular maintenance and retesting to ensure standards were maintained.

The IRB’s Law 1 also stated playing surfaces should be grass, but could also be clay, sand, snow “or artificial grass”, and neither regulations nor laws prevented international rugby on artificial surfaces.

New Zealand already has eight artificial surfaces used for rugby, but only up to premier club level.

Otago Rugby Football Union general manager Richard Kinley said he did not know much about artificial turf technology, but believed the idea “would make good sense” if grass surfaces could be replicated.

Cr Vandervis raised the idea earlier this year, during debate over a dedicated artificial turf for football at Logan Park – part-funded by Fifa – and a separate multipurpose turf for other codes.

The council had opted not to fund either, although potential sites for both had been identified.

Football South general manager Bill Chisholm, who backed the Logan Park plans, said having one inside the stadium would “certainly help” the sport, and could be completed for about $1 million.

However, he questioned whether it would suit rugby, and said Fifa would not help fund the initiative unless it was dedicated to football.

“Fifa are not going to put their money into something that’s for general use. We would have to control it.”

DCC slashes funding for public art


By Debbie Porteous on Thu, 16 Aug 2012

The budget for public-place art works in Dunedin has been slashed and the installation of new works is on hold while the Dunedin City Council’s art in public places policy is reviewed.

The Dunedin City Council programme was one of the casualties of a council cost-saving drive to keep rates down in the face of shortfalls in various dividends this year.

There was a public uproar about the last work installed in Dunedin, Harbour Mouth Molars in Portsmouth Dr, and then a local political storm around the controversial Haka Peep Show.

The latter ultimately attracted $50,000 funding from another council fund, but stretched relationships within the council over the cost and secrecy surrounding the work.

Cr Lee Vandervis resigned from the art in public places subcommittee “in disgust” when it initially supported spending $100,000 on the work.

Councillors decided to stop funding the programme until 2016-17 and fund it only $100,000 every four years after that, instead of every two years, as previously. The programme is left with $89,000 of carried-over funds until 2016-17, when it would previously have received another $200,000 by then.

The $100,000 biennial budget would be stretched over four years.

Cr Bill Acklin said the subcommittee had not met since July last year. A review of the art in public places policy had subsequently been started, with a view to it being incorporated in an arts and culture strategy being developed by the council.

After the subcommittee’s last meeting, Cr Acklin said he wanted to see the community better informed about the next project, once it was chosen.

He hoped as much information as possible could be provided so people knew what the project would be and why it was chosen, to avoid the situation with the molars, which just “appeared”, to the surprise of many.

Council events and community development manager Rebecca Williams said how to achieve that would be considered as part of the review.

She noted that community buy-in on art works was “a sensitive balancing act”.

She did not know how long the review would take, as the development of the arts and culture strategy was only in the early stages, so it could be “some time”.

Cr Acklin said he hoped it would not be longer than six months before the programme was active again.

ORC building ‘misuse’ of capital


Opinion • Tue, 14 Aug 2012

The Otago Regional Council in effect dismissed calls from the Prime Minister when it agreed to spend nearly $1 million on a new temporary building, writes Gerrard Eckhoff.

The decision by the Otago Regional Council last week to allow up to $1 million for a temporary $4000-a-square-metre building is receiving appropriate publicity. The decision was, however, democratically made, with one dissenting vote. There was another reason behind the one “no” vote, besides that of some inconvenience for 11 councillors and a few staff at the monthly meetings.

At the recent local government conference, the Prime Minister’s address focused on the need for central and local government to accept a whole new paradigm exists thanks to the global financial crisis – which is far from over. The public service must react to the Government’s edict, but councils have seemingly dismissed the PM’s call, and have adopted a “business as usual” approach.

Councils are morally obligated to accept the direction the Government requires and react accordingly. The need for effectiveness and efficiency by both central and local government is plain for all to see, and this is not just confined to staff deployment. The singular most pressing need is the effective and efficient use of capital.

Even a Green Party MP seems to grasp this point, with his brick-and-mortar comment while in Dunedin just recently.

The spending of $1 million on a temporary building which will have little or no resale value and will add virtually nothing to the retail/market value of the site would never occur in the private sector, as was also pointed out in Saturday’s ODT editorial. The misuse of capital in local government cannot continue if the country is to drag itself out of the ever-increasing circle of tax and spend.

Conversely, the regional council is in the middle of discussion over the request for considerable sums of (short-term) ratepayer money to assist in turning “dust bowls into fruit bowls”.

The difference in potential returns to the province from the two projects could not be more stark. One project – subject to appropriate consultation and safeguards – will deliver ongoing opportunity for generations to come. The other has an opportunity cost, as well as the loss of $1 million on a 250sq m building. That is the real “no brainer”.

Gerrard Eckhoff, of Alexandra, is the regional councillor who voted against the spending on the new building.

Ire and apology at heated meeting


By Chris Morris on Tue, 7 Aug 2012

Allegations and threats flew when a Dunedin City Council meeting erupted yesterday over claims the organisation was relying on millions of dollars in loans to keep rates down.

Cr Lee Vandervis began a verbal melee at yesterday’s meeting by claiming borrowing by Dunedin City Holdings Ltd continued to offset council rates.

The suggestion was quickly rejected by DCHL chairman Denham Shale, who last night confirmed to the Otago Daily Times the practice had ceased under the company’s new board as of July 1.

“Under our reign there will be no borrowing to pay dividends.”

Cr Vandervis had earlier told yesterday’s meeting the council holding company would borrow $6 million to help fund dividend payments to the council in the 2012-13 year.

The council would also draw another $3 million from the Waipori Fund in the same period, and taking money from other “places it doesn’t exist”.

Without the “smoke and mirrors”, the council’s rates rise for 2012-13 would be much higher than the 5% agreed during budget hearings.

“We don’t have a 5% rates increase this year. We have a 14% rates increase,” Cr Vandervis said.

His claims prompted heated exchanges.

Mayor Dave Cull labelled the suggestions “untrue”.

Cr Kate Wilson went further, denying the council was engaged in “trickery” and describing Cr Vandervis’ comments as “lies”.

“The word liar is an open invitation for defamation,” Cr Vandervis retorted.

Cr Wilson was forced to apologise after Mr Cull chastised her “unfortunate” choice of words, but she remained concerned the efforts of council staff in trimming costs to keep rates down was being called into question.

She stressed Cr Vandervis’ claims were “not the accepted line”.

Cr Syd Brown, chairman of the finance, strategy and development committee, said the community should be reassured the 5% rates increase had been struck for 2012-13.

That followed a democratic process accepted by councillors, which had also been “given the all clear” by Audit New Zealand, he said.

He also reassured councillors DCHL had committed to paying dividend payments without borrowing to do so.

Mr Shale’s confirmation of that was the first time the company had acknowledged that borrowing for dividends payments had ceased.

The company had earlier reduced its annual dividend from $18.2 million to $15.7 million, beginning in the 2012-13 year.

DCHL chief executive Bevan Dodds said last year loans would still be needed to part-fund dividend payments, and in June this year refused to confirm or deny that would continue.

Councillors yesterday signed off on reports on the Waipori Fund, Dunedin Venues Ltd and Dunedin Venues Management Ltd, already presented to last month’s finance, strategy and development committee.

Cr Vandervis said the council appeared not to have learned the lessons of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report into Forsyth Barr Stadium costs, which criticised overly complicated financial reports to councillors.

That practice appeared to be continuing, he said.

Councillors voted to accept the reports, with Crs Vandervis and Teresa Stevenson voting against.

Casting vote papers over cracks


By Chris Morris on Tue, 7 Aug 2012

A casting vote by Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull was needed to settle renewed divisions over fracking at a Dunedin City Council meeting yesterday.

The issue re-emerged at yesterday’s full council meeting, after councillors last month voted 7-6 in favour of adding Dunedin’s voice to calls for a national moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

The controversial oil and gas extraction process was already being investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and a report is due by November.

Cr Syd Brown told yesterday’s meeting he did not understand why the council would join others in calling for a moratorium ahead of the results of that investigation.

He believed the sheer volume of information available on both sides of the debate made it difficult to make a “judgement call” on the technique. None of it had been presented to councillors before they voted to endorse the moratorium calls on behalf of the city, he said.

“As far as Dunedin city is concerned, we should sit on the fence, wait on the Government to report back, and then find out from that information whether Dunedin needs to take a position,” he said.

His comments won support from Cr Neil Collins, who said the council’s role was partly to support projects providing the city extra employment, growth and wealth.

Despite the potential for oil and gas exploration in the region, the city’s decision to endorse the moratorium sent a signal “we’re not that interested”, he believed.

Deputy Mayor Chris Staynes took exception to the comments, pointing out the council’s moratorium call made no mention of whether the city supported oil and gas activities. It asked the Government only to take a “precautionary” approach until results of the official investigation were known, he said.

He also rejected the “very, very sensationalised comments” by the Otago Chamber of Commerce and a “local MP” over fracking and support for oil and gas exploration.

National’s Dunedin-based list MP, Michael Woodhouse, last month questioned the council’s support forsuch exploration off the coast in the wake of its moratorium call.

Chamber president Peter McIntyre last week expressed concern at negative comments by Mr Cull and Cr Jinty MacTavish about the oil and gas industry.

Cr Lee Vandervis said yesterday the moratorium call went a “step too far”, while Cr Fliss Butcher believed the council should be “loud and noisy” in its opposition to fracking, because of the environmental risks it posed.

Yesterday’s debate also centred on whether councillors could reverse the earlier decision to join the moratorium call.

Councillors at last month’s committee meeting had the power to decide that, because the report on the issue had been listed as a “Part A” item.

That gave councillors at the committee meeting the final say, their decision not requiring final approval at the next full council meeting.

Yesterday’s discussion occurred because the full council was asked only to approve the minutes of last month’s meeting, including the fracking vote result.

Whether to do so was eventually put to the vote following yesterday’s debate, with the result locked 7-7 until Mr Cull used his casting vote to “maintain the will of the planning and environment committee”.

Crs Butcher, Paul Hudson, MacTavish, Staynes, Teresa Stevenson, Kate Wilson and Mr Cull voted for; Bill Acklin, John Bezett, Brown, Collins, Andrew Noone, Vandervis and Colin Weatherall against.

Councillors back four-year term


By Chris Morris on Tue, 7 Aug 2012

Chants of “four more years” could soon be ringing out inside the Dunedin City Council chambers.

That is if Dunedin city councillors get their way after voting yesterday to support a push to extend three-year local body terms to four years.

The idea was already being promoted by councils in Christchurch and Wellington in their submissions on the Government’s better local government reforms, which are before a select committee.

Cr Lee Vandervis, speaking at yesterday’s full council meeting in Dunedin, suggested his colleagues should follow their lead and support the move.

The change would mean costly elections were held less often, and give councils more time to put plans into action.

“A three-year term in most governments around the world is just simply not long enough to put any plans into action,” he said.

Most councillors supported the idea, meaning Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull and council chief executive Paul Orders would back the change when presenting the council’s submission on the reforms later this year.

However, not all councillors were in favour, with Cr Neil Collins suggesting there would be plenty of people “quite happy” to support a two-year term instead.

“Four years is a long time,” he said.

“We owe it to the public to give them choice.”

Cr Teresa Stevenson also worried longer terms would slow the intake of “new blood” needed to refresh councils, and suggested existing councillors might have a conflict of interest in voting for the move.

Cr Kate Wilson believed it was “totally appropriate” to ask the Government to consider the change as part of its wider reforms, but Cr Jinty MacTavish asked when – or if – the public would have a say on such a “crucial issue”.

Mayor Dave Cull said that would be up to the Government to decide when considering its response to submissions.

“How they deal with it is something that we can’t foretell.”

Councillors voted to endorse the suggestion following the debate. Cr Stevenson abstained.

The Stadium challenge: make it pay


By Chris Morris on Sun, 5 Aug 2012

Headline acts and headline-grabbing financial problems have dominated the first year of operation at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium, but the crowds are continuing to flood in. Chris Morris reports.

There will be no birthday bash when Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin turns one year old tomorrow.

The controversial venue will complete a turbulent first year which began with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Prime Minister John Key on a cold August 5 morning last year.

To mark the occasion, Dunedin Venues Management Ltd, the company running the stadium, has released new figures showing 350,000 people passed through the venue’s gates in the first 12 months of operation.

That was well above initial expectations of about 250,000, DVML chief executive David Davies confirmed.

Crowd numbers were up thanks to the roaring success of last year’s Rugby World Cup, Highlanders franchise and Elton John and Otago Daily Times Big Night In concerts.

And when conference and meeting crowds making use of the stadium’s south stand lounges were included, the attendance figure rose again, to about 375,000, he said.

It was a level of community buy-in for a new venue that might be a reason to celebrate, if it were not for the bottom line.

That bottom line was a $1.9 million loss booked by DVML in its first six months of operation, and initial projections – since revised – for further losses totalling $3.3 million in the years to 2015.

It was a result that left Mr Davies with mixed feelings when asked if he viewed the first year as a success or failure.

“I think it’s both,” he said.

The company’s three key objectives for its first year had been to successfully stage four Rugby World Cup matches so soon after opening, earning community buy-in and hitting key financial targets.

“Of the three of those, we have probably hit two. We know we have done some things OK, but we have got to keep working at it,” he said.

It was a sentiment shared by Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, who identified positives and negatives from the venue’s first year of operation.

On the upside, the weather-proof stadium had proved to be a “wonderful venue” for spectator sports of any kind, drawing larger crowds to matches than its dilapidated predecessor, Carisbrook.

The experience had earned rave reviews from far and wide, although that counted for little unless it drew people to the city from outside, he believed.

However, the negatives remained “no secret”, after headline losses, overspending and criticism that raised questions about the affordability of the venue for the city, Mr Cull said.

That was in part due to decisions made by the previous council to add the stadium to an already long list of debt-hungry capital projects, he said.

Nevertheless, Mr Cull said the key issue to address in the venue’s second year was clear – how to make it pay.

“That’s the challenge.”

That work was already under way. A review of the business and operating models underpinning DVML and the stadium is to be presented to Mr Cull and his city councillors by Dunedin City Holdings Ltd later this year.

The review will examine how best to minimise operating costs, while maximising revenue streams and community use of the stadium, and its findings could herald major changes.

However, city councillor Lee Vandervis – a vocal stadium critic – already had solutions to offer.

He told the ODT he had been impressed by the successful construction of the “engineering marvel” on time, but less impressed by the apparent absence of a system to pay for it.

To solve that, he renewed calls for a full artificial turf to be installed, replacing the reinforced natural turf, to reduce operating costs while maximising use of the venue.

He also wanted match-day DVML staff replaced by volunteers, and cuts to DVML’s management and board structure, insurance policies and maintenance programmes, to save money.

“We have got to make sure that the operational costs aren’t what the last year has shown them to be. We just can’t afford to keep doing that.”

Long-time anti-stadium campaigner Bev Butler went further, saying the venue was a financial “disaster” and the council needed a full cost-benefit analysis before deciding whether to close the gates.

“It’s a good rugby venue …but I think the community has been let down, and I think it’s still a chain around the city’s neck.

“I don’t actually have much hope it will improve. If anything, I think it will get worse.”

The arguments could form part of the work of a new council subcommittee established to consider the findings of the review of the stadium and DVML, as well as community input, later this year.

Mr Davies believed whatever came of the review would be a critical part of the venue’s second year.

However, there were other challenges to be addressed in the meantime.

That included the search for a high-calibre replacement chief executive, following Mr Davies’ announcement he planned to return to England in March next year.

That would “clearly” be a key appointment for the venue’s future, although Mr Davies could not discuss it.

The wait for a follow-up act to rival Sir Elton also continued, although Mr Davies was optimistic progress on that front could be imminent after “a number of near-misses” during a tough year for touring acts.

He confirmed talks were progressing on two “really good” concerts, with an announcement on one possible in the next “month or so”, although details could not yet be divulged.

Talks were also progressing to secure two significant sporting fixtures, including an All Whites clash later this year.

An announcement on one was also possible later this month, he said.

If secured, some of the four events would be held later this year, he said.

The company had already taken steps to improve the experience inside the venue for fans, including efforts to block the worst of the wind coming through gaps in the eastern stand.

More were planned, including installing extra display screens to communicate key information to spectators, he said.

In the meantime, Mr Davies was keen to promote one key stadium statistic buried among the 269 events held in the first year.

Of those events, 150 were either conferences, concerts, trade shows, meetings and social events, and the remaining 119 sporting or community events.

That meant professional sporting fixtures were in the minority at the stadium and 69% of all events staged were considered “community-based”, he said.

It was another figure that pointed to DVML’s mixed year – a successful number, but a failure to communicate it, he believed.

“The message still seems to be that it’s an elite venue, and that clearly isn’t the case.”

The bottom line would again be the measure in a year’s time, and Mr Davies believed the company was in a “much stronger position” to meet its targets over the next year than one year ago.

However, he was cautious enough to warn the challenge remained a tough one.

“We are like any business. We are in a very tough economic position and at any stage things could change.”

The first year
The good
• 375,000 people through gates (250,000 were expected).
• 269 events, including 150 conferences, concerts, trade shows, meetings and social events and 119 sporting or community events.
• Rugby World Cup matches, Elton John concert, Highlanders crowds among highlights.
• $14.9 million economic boost for Dunedin estimated from Elton John concert alone.

The bad
• $1.9 million loss booked by Dunedin Venues Management Ltd in first half 2011-12 year.
• $3.3 million losses forecast to 2015 until cost-cutting and extra council funding reduced loss to $873,000.
• PricewaterhouseCoopers confirms $8.4 million construction overspend, interest costs push final stadium bill to $224.4 million.
• No major follow-up act to rival Elton John concert; talks continuing.

Watch this space
• Results of DVML and stadium review expected by November; major changes possible.
• Talks to secure two significant sports fixtures and two concerts could soon bear fruit.

DCC wants to pass on pokie duties


By Chris Morris on Wed, 1 Aug 2012

The Dunedin City Council wants to delegate responsibility for the future distribution of pokie funds to avoid a potentially costly conflict of interest, if the Government opts to hand the role to local authorities.

The suggestion, in the council’s revised submission on the Gambling (Gambling Harm) Reduction Amendment Bill, aimed to protect the council’s access to funding worth $1.27 million in the past two years alone.

The Bill, once law, would give local authorities responsibility for the distribution of pokie funds through new council-created committees.

The council’s revised submission, approved by councillors last week, warned the change would leave the council “open to criticism” about a perceived conflict of interest if it was to seek funding from its own committee.

The change suggested by the Bill would prompt the council to stop applying for pokie funding, leaving some future activities unfunded or ratepayers footing the bill, the submission warned.

It was revealed last month the council was the second-biggest recipient of pokie grants in Dunedin, having received $1.27 million in the two-year period to March 31, just behind racing with $1.28 million.

The council’s share included small items, such as a new Christmas tree, but also the largest single grant in Dunedin: $605,556 for the artificial turf system at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in 2010.

The potential conflict of interest was identified after the council’s original submission was sent recently to the commerce committee.

As a result, councillors at last week’s planning and environment committee approved a revised submission, which recommended removing the proposal to pass funding allocations to council committees.

Councillors at last week’s meeting then tweaked the wording to include a suggestion councils be allowed to delegate the job to outside groups, such as the Otago Community Trust.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, who suggested the move, said a group such as the Otago Community Trust would be in the “perfect position” to distribute pokie funds in Dunedin.

The idea won support from Cr John Bezett, who said the work should be carried out by a group with experience in the role.

However, Cr Jinty MacTavish warned some organisations opposed the use of pokie funds, while Cr Richard Thomson said the Bill was about removing the gambling “rort”, rather than harm. The simplest solution would be to remove poker machines altogether, he said.

Cr Lee Vandervis believed the council was well placed to do the work, and wondered what the trust’s position would be on the suggestion, as nobody from the council had asked it.

Otago Community Trust chief executive Keith Ellwood was not aware of the council’s move until contacted this week.

He was reluctant to comment, but said it would be “drawing a long bow” to assume the trust could take on the role of distributing pokie funds, which would be “a completely different kettle of fish”.

“We’re in business to manage our own money and to apply those proceeds for good community purposes in our region, and we manage that process in accordance with our own set of policies and guidelines.

“I am sure they differ very, very significantly from the application of gaming machine proceeds.”

He would not rule out discussing the idea, “but it’s something we’ve not even vaguely contemplated”.