by Chris Tobin
Timaru Mayor Nigel Bowen is throwing his support behind a proposed large-scale retail development on the showgrounds site, but a battle could be looming.
Mr Bowen says the planned sale and development of the former A&P showgrounds is good for Timaru and should proceed, while the Timaru CBD group is calling for a halt and greater transparency over the sale.
“I believe this is a good deal for the people of Timaru and stand by the decision made by the council to support the sale,” Mr Bowen said in a statement to The Courier
“Going by the majority of feedback I’ve received, as well as several informal polls in the media, I’m assured that most people in the district share this view.”
Timaru CBD Group chairman Nigel Gilkison said until the Timaru public was consulted over the sale, it should not proceed.
“This is a big issue and needs public consultation because this land is 100% owned by council. It’s a great opportunity to look at other options.”
Due diligence has still to be observed before the 12.4-hectare site is formally handed over by the Timaru District Council’s financial company Timaru District Holdings Ltd (TDHL) to developer Redwood QT Ltd.
Until this is completed, TDHL and the council remain as owners.
Mr Bowen, who was appointed a director of TDHL last year, said the development would widen the range of options people had within the district and help stem the flow of people to larger shopping destinations such as Christchurch, Dunedin and Ashburton every weekend.
“We’ve committed to working with retailers and property owners to develop and reignite the CBD to fit in with the changing needs of our community, but there’s little point in doing this if people leave town entirely to go to popular shops that they can’t access here.”
“There are confidential matters with any commercial decision of this scale,” Mr Bowen said.
“These are in place to help TDHL negotiate the best deal for its overall owners, Timaru district ratepayers.
“TDHL have managed to agree a deal that helps bring new and exciting retail options to Timaru, while providing the types of safeguards to our existing CBD that a purely commercial provider would not have done.”
Mr Gilkison and his group met Mr Bowen and chief executive Bede Carran yesterday to advise they could not see the benefits of the development.
“They should pull out of the sale and say to the community, ‘what do we do with it, for recreation or a park or for housing?’,” Mr Gilkison said.
In a letter to the council, Mr Gilkison had asked all TDHL directors to be present and to explain why safeguards over the sale appeared not to limit small retail development at the showgrounds.
“This is our [ratepayer] money and our land and they’ve pushed through a sale that hasn’t been consulted on.
“There’s a lot feeling out there and not just by retailers and business owners in the CBD.
“To me it’s a similar issue to the Alpine Energy [proposed] sale, making decisions behind closed doors and not being transparent.”
Mr Gilkison and the CBD group believed if Redwood QT developed things as they wished, the CBD would die.
“The amount of floor area is about the same as the existing retail space in the CBD. It will be a new CBD.
“It will become like a retail destination drawing away people from the CBD.”
Mr Bowen said to ensure there was no suggestion of undue influence one way or another, all decisions made around resource consent application and how the development fitted within the district plan were made by a body independent of council and by extension TDHL.
“It would be inappropriate to comment on the specifics of the application.”
Redwood QT Ltd director Tony Gapes had no comment.
In 2017, TDHL paid $6.296million for the land.
The sale price to Redwood QT had not been disclosed publicly.