The purchase of a prominent set of commercial properties in Marton to develop into a council services facility has been given the go-ahead by councillors.

Rangitikei District Council will buy the Cobbler/Davenport/Abraham & Williams buildings on the corner of High St and Broadway for $170,000. It will also set aside $50,000 for a heritage assessment of the buildings. The council's intention is to turn the site into a one-stop-shop for council administration and library services, and for the current council building and library - both on High St - to be sold with proceeds going to the new centre. During deliberations on annual plan submissions last week, councillor Lynne Sheridan was concerned the council was only buying the building because of its "bargain basement price".

"Are we buying it because of its bargain basement price or are we buying it because it's the right place to buy? I don't think it is the right place to buy."

Bulls councillor Tim Harris was strongly against the purchase, saying council could not afford it. He cited a projected increase in council debt and an agricultural and retail recession as reason not to spend money on the site. "Let's not kid ourselves that it's all rosy in rural communities," he said. "We are a pretty well-run council now, let's keep it that way."


But mayor Andy Watson said the project was about providing services and earthquake legislation would force it to upgrade some facilities. "We do not have an option."

Buying the building with the intention to develop it was an opportunity to support Marton's main street, he said.

Councillor Nigel Belsham said the proposal had public support for the council to back it. "There has been mixed comments around the table and also from the public but by far the majority want to see a positive step in the right direction."

Councillor Cath Ash was also supportive of the purchase as development of the site would be good of the look of the CBD. But she wanted council to step aside if another developer showed an interest. "That is the most strategic corner as far as looks go for the town and completely letting us down," she said.

There was concern, highlighted by councillor Ruth Rainey, that the council was buying properties it would later find out it could not do anything with under heritage rules.