Council eyes more land sales

By, John Maslin

Pockets of land and reserves have been listed for sale as part of the council's 10 Year Plan with a capital value of $6.7 million. Council officers estimate they could have a collective market value of $8 million.

Councillor Rob Vinsen, who chairs the council's strategy and finance committee, told Thursday's meeting that, while not all the land would sell, it had the potential to save more than $500,000 in yearly interest payments and reduce the council's own rates bill by $1 million annually.

And, with new owners, that land could generate rates income.

Mr Vinsen said last week's meeting was the third at which councillors had considered the list of properties, and councillors needed to be reminded of what their role was. "The core issue is about council debt, and councillors all have a responsibility to try and reduce that debt," he said.

"We can do it through rates or by selling property, but what we're trying to do is reduce debt."

He said council needed to take a pragmatic approach and decide whether it was absolutely essential to retain these properties.

"I'm of the view that none of them should be kept," Mr Vinsen said.

But Councillor Sue Westwood reminded her colleagues that "this is not just about money".

"Once you sell it, you cannot get it back. Some of these properties have been gifted to Wanganui and to sell them is pushing the boundaries too far, in my view," Mrs Westwood said. "Selling them is very short-sighted when some of the land has a social and environmental impact on our community.

"I'm not unaware of council debt, but then $60 million of that was incurred in the six years of the previous council," she said.

The council has already given its chief executive officer powers to market some 17 parcels of land in the city and district and last week's meeting of the infrastructure and property committee considered adding another 24 addresses to that list.

Most have been recommended for sale but all were not unanimously signed off. And some were retained in council ownership.

Held over for more investigation were 235 London St, which is land used by Riding for the Disabled, and some forested land in Kauarapaoa Rd gifted to council by the Plimmer family.

The councillors decided to retain part of Corn Market reserve on the Dublin St-Somme Pde corner which was once a bowling club as well as a slice of Lorenzdale Park off Swiss Ave.

Councillor Hamish McDouall said with about 600 homes for sale in Wanganui at the moment, "it's odd we're contemplating any housing development happening at all".

Mr McDouall questioned why some of the land was being considered for sale at all, with some of it "the size of a postage stamp".

He said a walkway (25 Karamu St) was typical of small zones within subdivisions and "the sort of green space people treasure".

"I'd implore councillors to think less about financial gain from these properties and more about their value as an amenity," he said.

Councillor Sue Westwood took a similar stance when the committee looked at 134 Great North Rd.

Officers are suggesting slicing 8000 sq m off the Otamatea reserve to the right of the old Friends School brick building. They estimate it has a sale value of $400,000.

But Mrs Westwood said the reserve was "pivotal" to a suburb where most of the residential subdivision is happening.

"There's clearly been a lot of discussion with potential developers, but to take part of the reserve which many people enjoy is very short-sighted," she said.

Mr Vinsen said it was only 15 per cent of the reserve and was in an area rarely used by the public.

While those properties sparked debate, councillors recommended selling a number of them without any discussion.

Two properties - 105 Manuka St and 25 Tawa St - are already under contract, while another six are on the market. These include 57 Heads Rd and 8 Gilmour St (zoned residential, facing the southern motorway), 9 Karoro Rd (industrial, off Beach Rd), 171 Somme Pde (manufacturing, next to the railway line), and 10 and 16 Windsor Tce (residential).

Others recommended for sale include 88 Duncan St (residential), Parsons St-Fergusson St corner (residential), 35 Fox Rd (reserve, with Brethren school on it), 58 Nile St (reserve ), 180a Paterson St (reserve), and 15 Nichol Pl (reserve).

Greg Morris, deputy property manager, said all the property being considered would require more research to establish potential use and whether there were covenants on the properties such as those gifted to the city.

Mr Morris said some properties were obviously more desirable than others, and when to sell would probably be dictated by the market.

The recommendations will now go forward to today's council meeting for ratification.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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