Transparency needed over marina land sale

Negotiations over the Hammerhead, which could see 5ha of publicly owned waterfront land at Gulf Harbour sold, are again causing controversy as Councillors, the local board and community seek greater transparency.

CCO Panuku Development proposes to give freehold title to the marina land (Lots 1-6, see map p2) to Gulf Harbour Investments Ltd (GHIL) in return for a cash payment and the lease rights over the 3.1ha Hammerhead (Lots 7-9) – which includes the ferry terminal, parking and public boat ramp.

The aim is to secure free public use of the Hammerhead, which could be under threat once GHIL exercises its rights under a development licence, potentially preventing free parking on the site.

At public information sessions (HM June 1) and last month’s local board meeting, Panuku sought feedback on the proposal, which it has been negotiating with GHIL since last year. This month it will seek the endorsement of Council’s Finance and Performance Committee to proceed with a deal.

A key issue is the refusal of Panuku to disclose the likely amount of any cash differential to the local board, the public and even to Council decision makers. When a similar deal was being negotiated, in 2012, a figure of $7-8m was put before Council. However, this time around, the sums involved have been kept under wraps.

Local board chair Julia Parfitt says initially Panuku wouldn’t even tell the local board how much the marina land earns for Council in rent. As this turned out to be on the public record, the figure of $526,985 per annum was eventually provided.

Panuku’s portfolio strategy manager Marian Webb told the local board last month that any other figures, including the cash differential, were too commercially sensitive to reveal. She said they would also not normally supply those figures to the Finance & Performance Committee, with only the Panuku board having that information, something that Cr John Watson considers to be “like agreeing to sell your house without knowing what you’ll get for it”. “It’s unacceptable and arrogant given this is publicly owned land,” he says.

Strongly worded feedback from the Gulf Harbour Marina Berth Holders, of which there are more than 1000, is that because the land is reclaimed foreshore it should be retained in public ownership and not sold to a business for commercial gain.

More than 200 people who attended public meetings in May endorsed the berth holders’ view that the Public Works Act should be used to secure the Hammerhead. Panuku says it rejected this option on legal advice that it could be challenged in court.

Cr John Watson sought a strong statement that the Public Works Act was the preferred option from the local board, on behalf of the community, to take with him into the Finance & Performance Committee meeting on July 24.

He says the local board’s feedback that focused on the importance of free public access to the Hammerhead for recreation and transport fell well short of the mark.

“While the board were quick to say they’re not the decision makers, their vote ignores the public’s view and is just what Panuku was looking for,” Cr Watson says.

He says while the proceeds of sale are theoretically tagged for ‘boat harbour purposes’ in the former Rodney County Council area, there is no local board control over that money. “What this means is that the public rights guaranteed under the Gulf Harbour Empowering Act as compensation for the loss of Hobbs Bay when the marina was created, will be lost.”

Local board member Vicki Watson says it would have been irresponsible to support or oppose the proposal without sufficient information, including the figures.

“I know it can be commercially sensitive, but how does Council base a decision on no figures? Even if they told us what they could potentially do with the money received, it would give us something to go on,” she says. “There were too many ‘maybes’ – would the car parks be charged for on the Hammerhead if the deal isn’t done, could apartments be built on the marina land if a sale goes through? People make decisions on emotions – and this land means a lot to the community – but you also have to take the dollars into account because that’s what it costs the ratepayer.”

In response to local board questions, Marian Webb said that Panuku took legal advice to ascertain what level of public consultation, if any, would be required concerning the proposed deal. The advice was that full consultation was not needed, as the marina is “not a significant or strategic asset”. In 2012, Panuku’s predecessor, Auckland Council Property Ltd, also took legal advice on consultation, as well as whether the proceeds of sale of the marina land must be used in this area.