The Waitaki District Council wants the community’s feedback on Forrester Heights’ future.
Consultation starts today, and the council has given the community three options to consider — turning all or some of the 2.5ha of land into a reserve, selling some or all of the land and using the funds to benefit the community, or leaving it as is for now.
The council property overlooking Oamaru Harbour has a controversial history, and is back in the spotlight after the council announced last year there had been approaches by ‘‘several parties’’ interested in buying it for development. Friends of Oamaru Harbour also put a proposal to the council, and community, for the land to be turned into a reserve, reforested with native species, and used as a link between Lookout Point and the harbour.
Waitaki District Council chief executive Alex Parmley said there was a high level of interest in Forrester Heights, and the council had already received a lot of feedback from people in the community. But it was important to get the wider community’s views before deciding on the land’s future, Mr Parmley said.
‘‘[The] council is keen to hear from as many people as possible because we know this is an important decision and that there is a diverse range of views in the community,’’ he said.
Most of Forrester Heights is legally classified asendowment land, vested to the council by the Crown to be used for revenue generating purposes for the benefit of the community.
‘‘Although the land’s current status is directed towards that particular purpose, it’s important we look at all options for using it for the community’s benefit, which range from making it a recreation area through to selling it for development and using the proceeds to invest in other projects that residents see as a priority,’’ he said.
The council has released a consultation document, which details all of the options — and the pros and cons, it considers, of each.
To properly classify and administer the land as a reserve, its legal status would need to be changed. This would likely require an Act of Parliament, and the council has warned that this process would take time and cost money, which would add to the rates bill.
Selling some or all of the land could be done in several ways. The council could call for tenders or sell it on the open market. The council could be the developer and sell sections on its own, or could set up a joint venture. Proceeds could be used to pay for a new service or facility like a new reserve in another part of Oamaru or to help fund the new Waitaki Event Centre, it could be invested to generate a return to support services and reduce rate increases, used to pay down debt, or a combination of those things.
Leaving the land as it is for now would not be a long-term option. Because of the endowment status it would eventually have to be used to generate revenue, but in the meantime it could continue to gain value.
‘‘It’s important everyone has an opportunity to consider the cost, benefits and risks of the options before giving their feedback, so that the final decision can be informed by the aspirations of the wider community,’’ Mr Parmley said.
Friends of Oamaru Harbour co-ordinator Vicki Jayne is urging the public to ‘‘see Forrester Heights for yourself’’ before making a submission to the council.
Ms Jayne said the community would be better informed in the consultation process if they visited it themselves, with access from Test and Avon Sts and Lookout Point, and took in the ‘‘sensational’’ views of the harbour and town. The Friends group submitted its plan to create a native plant reserve to the council in February, and is strongly opposed to a sale for a housing development.
Consultation closes on May 16, and the council aimed to decide on Forrester Heights’ future by the end of June. Feedback forms and more information on the consultation are available online at waitaki.govt.nz/forresterheights. Hard copies are available at council service centres and district libraries.