Central Otago resort dream 'pie in the sky'

Backers of a Central Otago luxury resort and lifestyle development will consider appealing a decision that wipes the project off the district plan.

The Central Otago District Council has agreed to reverse a district plan change, removing the McArthur Ridge Resource Area (MRRA) and returning it to its original rural resource zoning.

The written findings, released publicly on Saturday, follow a lengthly hearing last month where arguments were presented both for and against rezoning the 645 hectares of land, 6km north of Alexandra.

Graeme Reid, consultant for the applicant, the Canterbury Mortgage Trust, said the dream of a $500 million luxury resort was ''pie in the sky'' and the council's decision was common sense.

The trust, which is mortgagee for Central Otago Pinot Noir Estates Ltd and Thyme Fields Ltd, controlled 77 per cent of the land within the MRRA area. It was not interested in the development and wanted to sell the land.

''I think the impact is positive for the area because it will enable land to be used for its highest and best use," Reid said.

"That area does have a lot of potential for lifestyle development, which was previously prohibited under the MRRA. We are very, very pleased.''

The trust was ''winding down'' and had to repay 5000 investors, Reid said.

Warwick Goldsmith, speaking for the McArthur Ridge Investment Group Ltd (MRIGL), which owns 23 per cent of the area, told the hearing a resort - albeit smaller version - was ''still alive'' with a conditional contract on the table.

The project remained feasible without the land controlled by the trust, with a potential investor interested in developing a nine-hole golf course and hotel on the MRIGL land, Goldsmith said.

Speaking to The Southland Times today, Goldsmith said MRIGL had 30 working days to appeal the decision to the Environment Court.

''The decision to appeal is not going to be made instantly ... it is an option and all options will be considered.''

He would make no further comment.

The original McArthur Ridge ''dream'' gained traction in September 2007 when the council approved a private plan change to support the development of a ''world class vineyard and golf course resort", with a hotel and related residential and lifestyle development. Up to 1376 residential units were provided for.

At the hearing, the panel was told none of the development provided for in the MRRA had occurred.

The council, in its findings, says the private plan change was approved on the basis of a specific development model. The Rural Resource Area provisions apply to all other land in this locality, including land adjacent to the current MRRA, it says.

''Post the Global Financial Crisis realisation of that development opportunity as promoted in 2007 is extremely unlikely.

''Council considers that removal of the MRRA provisions and the application of the Rural Resource Area instead is consistent with taking a long term view of the management of the land resource currently contained in the MRRA.''

The Southland Times