Council land purchases tend to attract grief and suspicion, as seen this April when the city paid $1.125 million for two beachside Plimmerton properties. As a new property subcommittee meets this month to discuss a large Whitby purchase, mayor Nick Leggett and council chief Gary Simpson demystify the council's land strategy for reporter ANDREA O'NEIL.
Pataka, Gear Homestead, Colonial Knob, North City mall, Aotea block - none of these city assets would exist if Porirua City Council had not secured land with the future of the city in mind, according to mayor Nick Leggett and council chief executive Gary Simpson.
"The council secures property for strategic purposes. All councils do it, and this council has done it over a number of decades," Mr Leggett says.
"I think people should question these sort of decisions - they're absolutely right to question them. But there also has to be some sort of acknowledgement that controversial sales have delivered significant gains."
Land deals are often done out of the public eye, which rouses suspicion among residents, the pair acknowledge. But keeping deals out of the public eye helps keep prices down, and ensures the council can jump on opportunities quickly.
"We have to be able to respond to opportunities and a lengthy consultation process would destroy that," Mr Leggett says.
Purchases that are controversial at the time, like the 1980s purchase of the land Pataka now sits on, often later attract praise from the naysayers, Mr Leggett says. But there are always people who will quibble about any expenditures of public funds.
"These arguments are made by the people who don't want to spend anything."
Land purchases are made for a variety of reasons - 40 per cent are infrastructural, like a recent Whitby purchase to secure a sewage pump station.
The plan for the Plimmerton purchase and a Titahi Bay beachside property yet to be finalised, is to create waterside parks, including cafes. The council cannot afford to create the park for several years but grabbing the land was vital for future beachside access, Mr Leggett says.
"Those are things that are not always visible, but if we fast- forward 50 years and look at the growth and infill that's going to occur, having public space next to the sea - it's going to increase quality of life."
Mr Simpson says in the 1970s Porirua City Council planned to buy most of Plimmerton's beachside land, which quickly became unrealistic. The Plimmerton purchase was probably the last affordable chunk of beachside land in the suburb, with neighbouring land pushing $3 million for 1300 square metres. "Those properties are gone from the public forever."
Taking the long view on population growth led to the purchase, and then sale, of land that became North City and the Aotea subdivision, Mr Simpson says.
A property subcommittee formed in May met last month to discuss a block of Whitby land next to a future Transmission Gully off-ramp, where the council will need to build adjoining roads, Mr Simpson says.
The committee was created to give rigour and transparency to land purchases, he says.
It is made up of Mr Leggett, councillors Ken Douglas, Tim Sheppard and Rob Rangi, plus independent real estate expert Ian Pike.
Conspicuous by their absence are councillors with real estate experience, including Euon Murrell and Anita Baker, Mr Simpson says.
PORIRUA CITY COUNCIL LAND PURCHASES BY CATEGORY
GREEN BELT: Securing the "face" of Porirua for future generations. Includes 2009's $560,000, 109 hectare purchase of Colonial Knob, and the 2005 $335,000 partial purchase of Waitangirua Farm, now part of Belmont Regional Park.
CITY CENTRE: The most expensive land in the city. Past purchases include the Pataka site, and the block sold to North City Shopping Centre. Future purchases will facilitate the city centre revitalisation plan.
INFRASTRUCTURE: A block of land belonging to Whitby Coastal Estates which borders the future Transmission Gully off-ramp will be considered by council this month. Typical purchases secure land for water, sewage and roads.
BEACHSIDE: Includes April's $1.125 million purchase of 34 and 36 Steyne Ave in Plimmerton. The properties are currently rented out but are destined to become a seaside park. The acquisition of 19 Bay Drive in Titahi Bay is being finalised.
- Kapi-Mana News