Campus rots while government dithers

EMPTY: The largely unused former CIT campus Upper Hutt, another casualty of the Crown's tape-ridden property disposal process.
EMPTY: The largely unused former CIT campus Upper Hutt, another casualty of the Crown's tape-ridden property disposal process.

The long-closed former Central Institute of Technology Campus in Upper Hutt is costing the taxpayer more than $450,000 a year to maintain while it continues to inch its way through the Government's tortuous land disposal process.

Cost details have been disclosed by Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce in response to questions from local resident Wayne King.

The minister, who took over eight months to reply to King's questions, said the Ministry of Education had budgeted $543,000 this year for the CIT sites operational upkeep costs.

This consisted of $160,000 for rates, $288,000 for planned maintenance and $95,000 for unplanned maintenance.

Current rental income for the Heretaunga campus was $90,775 per year.

CIT was established on the 16ha campus in the 1970s and closed in 2001 when its podiatry, radiation therapy and dental technology courses were transferred to Auckland University of Technology, the Wellington School of Medicine and Otago University. Other courses were transferred to the Wellington Institute of Technology.

In 2002, Australian private university company Campus Group Holdings leased the campus with plans to attract up to 5000 international students.

However, its plans faltered and ultimately folded.

The campus is just across the road from the Trentham Army base and the Defence Force's operational headquarters and in 2009 Defence looked at spending $110 million to redevelop the campus as a defence training establishment.

Those plans came to nothing but in recent years Defence has used a small part of the campus for its boot camp training courses for youth.

But most of the campus and its large buildings remain unused.

Under the Government's surplus land disposal process, departments with surplus property must first offer it to other government agencies. It then has to be offered back to previous owners before being land banked for possible Waitangi Treaty settlements.

It has now been made available for purchase under the recently enacted $70.6m Ngati Toa Treaty of Waitangi Settlement.

Ngati Toa executive director Matiu Rei said the iwi was interested in the campus but he was not prepared to disclose what its plans might be.

"We are interested in it and there's been some work carried on at the moment. Once we have that completed there is a potential for us to pick it up, but it's by no means a lay down misere.

"These things can be quite protracted. The buildings there require significant upgrading because they haven't been occupied for some time."

It could take some time to work out whether the buildings were suitable and the iwi was still a long way from making any decisions.

King, who lives in Silverstream, just down the road from the CIT campus, said it beggared belief that so much quality real estate had remained largely un- used for 13 years.

It was an asset that was consuming money and it would inevitably become so run down that a bulldozer would have to put through it. It had parallels with Petone College, which was vandalised and hit by arsonists while it lay idle for more than a decade before it was sold to the Port Nicholson Settlement Trust, which has in turn leased it to Ryman Healthcare for a new retirement village development.

King said it was ridiculous that consecutive governments had taken so long to decide what was going to happen to the CIT site.

Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy said government handling of the CIT was an "absolute disgrace" and something needed to be done to expedite disposal of publicly funded infrastructure like this.

He was appalled at how efforts to put the complex back into use had been delayed and strangled in red tape.

The Australian university that tried to make a go of the campus was poorly treated. Life was made very difficult for it, and in the end the lease was terminated.

The uni struggled to get its courses approved and was confronted by a lot of red tape.

"If people don't want it to happen we in New Zealand have a bureaucracy that can kill anyone and kill anyone's soul and that's what happened here."

Ngati Toa was not to blame. The Crown's property disposal process was riddled with red tape and time-wasting that just ate everyone up. The complex, developed at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, had been mired in years of indecision by a process.

It had got to the point where "it will die off and it will be worth nothing so there's only one thing left for it but to knock it down . . . the CIT is fast approaching that."

Guppy said he was uncertain what Ngati Toa might have in mind for the property but expected setting a realistic valuation was going to be an issue.

The Dominion Post