The intent of the Far North District Council to transfer the Russell wharf asset to their wholly-owned commercial arm Far North Holdings Ltd is a reasonable move. What is not, is how this has all come about.
We are aware that the FNDC, FNHL and the RWWT (the collective partners) have been in discussions for many months, and have actively planned and set up a scheme that we in the Russell community, at the 11th hour, are now attempting to unravel and understand, as the horse is trying to bolt.
The lack of transparency resulting from non-notification of the Russell wharf resource consent and the added confusion of the LTP process has prompted a heated debate. Now there is a growing awareness of what is going on here.
A developing view is that the Russell Wharf Waterfront Trust (RWWT) is not impartial, and is a vehicle to support at least one of the investors in the Duke of Marlborough Hotel to provide capital for the proposed new building on the wharf.
The irony is that if these participants had been upfront with the community from the beginning then the real Russell community (not the tick the box district majority) may support a joint venture of some kind, provided the structure and the content of the joint venture was right.
However, under current circumstances, pushing the asset transfer through now can only bolster the likelihood of a judicial review of the whole matter.
The lack of proper and timely consultation with affected parties, including the people of Russell, the exclusive occupancy provision and the provision of only one public berth, as contained in the amended consent, and the excessive unwanted new building designed by its investors is a game-breaker for many of us.
On September 13, 2017, Northland Regional Council granted consent to the FNDC, which contained a redevelopment Option A and B. Option A expands the wharf considerably with new berths and a new Terminal 5. Option B effectively retains the existing wharf and adds floating pontoons as an upgrade.
Both options allowed for exclusive commercial use on the northern side of the complex only, and an expanded wharf building for a café, and this information formed the basis for public submissions. However, on April 16, 2018, an amended consent was subsequently granted by the NRC to the FNDC, just as the LTP hearings commenced.
This final consent has adopted Option B, and has secured exclusive commercial occupancy over an area clearly designed to accommodate Option A later.
The consent issued on April 16 gives exclusive occupancy rights to FNHL, "at the exclusion of others", and the previous version of the consent did not, as there was a clearly defined commercial area, and presumably a public area, which was pretty much as it has been for decades — 50/50.
This change was also non-notified, and makes a mockery of concerned ratepayers, who in the end were making submissions based on a consent application that was amended during the LTP process.
The consent also ignores any affected parties, the heritage values of the wharf, and the conditions of a previous consent dated June 29, 2016, which contained a recommendation that the wharf should not be expanded in area or mass or be converted into a hybrid marina, which the current plans clearly now show.
The limited information that the Russell community were given at the 11th hour public meetings in Russell gave no indication of the consent changes coming, and in fact FNHL staff said publicly that details, such as occupancy, were negotiable.
However, the approved consent evidences otherwise, and it is a done deal.
The Russell wharf is being taken from the Russell community and others without proper and timely public consultation as affected parties.
As a commercial operator FNHL can refuse to provide commercially-sensitive information, but now is the time to understand the expected operating expenditure and profit generated from any plan that the board of Far North Holdings has agreed to and is accountable for, to ensure the proposal is viable.
If ownership of the wharf is transferred to FNHL then the statutory obligation to maintain it must also be transferred.
To enlist a charitable trust to undertake a maintenance role is unworkable, cannot be relied upon, and I am certain the NRC, as inspectors of environmental structures, would have to agree.
The mishandling of this project by the collective partners has compromised and alienated Russell people, the result being that legal action is being prepared to review the process and inevitably find out what has been going on here, who is involved, what is the real objective and who is paying for it?
We say: Stay the resource consent, put the ownership/asset transfer on hold, provide for full and proper consultation with the Russell community that is publicly notified, rather than the orchestrated tick box process as part of the LTP, review the building consent.
Which we understand is non-compliant in many respects, review the sewerage pump-out plan.
Which is non-compliant, being waste not generated in the area of interest, review no provision for all-weather public seating, review water supply to café.
Which is non-complying and inadequate — where is the water sourced from?