Dave Armstrong: If Shelly Bay oasis is just another council handout to business, then get lostalito

Some developers have alleged that Wellington City Council is considering selling its land at Shelly Bay for less than ...
Cameron Burnell/Fairfax NZ

Some developers have alleged that Wellington City Council is considering selling its land at Shelly Bay for less than market value.

OPINION: One of my earliest memories of Shelly Bay was when it was still an Air Force base. Being a member of a military band meant that I sometimes made the journey out there to play for various events. It was fun being inside a real live air force base, even if there were no planes about.  

But things have changed since the base was deemed surplus to requirements. Yet I still love stopping at Shelly Bay for a coffee after cycling around the Miramar peninsula. Let's hope whatever happens, it will still be possible to do that. 

Shelly Bay is very pretty and has great harbour views, so it's understandable that developers have seen great potential in a possible housing development there. Though in yet another case of cultural cringe, enough though Shelly Bay is located on a unique harbour with many great stories – Maori and Pakeha – this new development is being dubbed "Sausalito of the South". 

Ian Cassels of the Wellington Company and the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust (PNBST), who own most of the land at Shelly Bay as a result of an iwi settlement, have teamed up and Cassels wants to buy the council land for development.

The trouble is, according to Cassels, lots of infrastructure work – such as roads and storm-water – will have to be carried out to make Shelly Bay Sausalito-like. And this work costs way too much money for a poor developer to shell out. Cassels wants the council to fund the infrastructure. The normal practice is for private developers to pay for such things. I suspect that if a developer tried to get the council to pay for water and drains in Kingstonalito, Grenada Northilito or Tawalito, the council would tell them to get lostalito.  

Cassels rightly claims that because Shelly Bay has been isolated for some time, Shellsalito will be more expensive than your average property development. However, it is also true that it is in a highly desirable location that will potentially make Cassels and the PNBST a killingalito. 

If you have followed the goings-on just down the road at the airport you'll understand Cassels' argument – the expensive privately owned asset will bring much benefit to the area, including a hefty haul of rates money, so the council should help fund it. The funding of private businesses by public bodies seems to be an increasing feature of our local politics of late. 

I wonder if my local bottle store owner will tell me that if I splash out a few grand for his new fridge then the beer I buy from him will taste much nicer. 

If there is a cashflow problem for Cassels and the PNBST then giving the council a 33 per cent share in their respective companies could be an option, but I suspect Cassels is talking about a handoutalito. Maybe they could name the planned craft brewery after local councillors, though I suspect The Swampy Marsh Beer Garden or The Sarah Free Beer Company wouldn't be great names. 

According to other local property developers, the price that the council has been considering selling the land for, which the developers say was $2.7 million, is way under the real value of about $10 million. 

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The latest gossipalito puts the price on which the council will agree at about $8 million. The matter was discussed but the council meeting was held behind closed doors as it was commercially sensitivalito. However, the public will be able to air their views, though the council have the final say. 

Councillor Andy Foster doesn't want decisions made behind closed doors and he is right. In my limited experience, "commercially sensitive" information is never as commercially sensitive as some politicians and businesspeople believe. It's our land and it seems that the recent public discussion about Shellsalito land has actually pushed up the value. 

At the moment, I'm agnosticalito on Shelly Bay, but I worry that too often our council is conned into pumping money into private businesses that don't really need it. As Andy Foster says, "ratepayers need to be confident we are not giving a subsidy to developers for the land and infrastructure". Hear, hear.

 - The Dominion Post


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