Questions about the sale of Invercargill council land: toxic waste, mayor’s storage, and canceled loans

The Awarua farm is located between Invercargill and Bluff. The house remains the property of the council but the surrounding land has recently been sold. Photo / Matthew Rosenberg / LDR

Invercargill City Council has sold a large parcel of farmland about 10 km south of town, but is silent on its price.

Questions also surround the loans that were written off on the project and why a decision was made to sell this year.

Between March 2006 and June 2008, the council purchased around 600 ha of land in Awarua with the aim of facilitating industrial development.

This week, he confirmed that 513 ha had become unconditional in the past three months, while 96 ha would be retained.

The council-owned land recently made headlines in August when it was revealed that the mayor of Invercargill, Sir Tim Shadbolt, was storing personal items on a farm at one of the properties.

Originally purchased in four stages for a total of $ 9.505 million, the land was acquired with the intention of reselling it.

The board will not disclose how much it sold for, or who the buyer is, claiming the information is commercially sensitive.

He also chose not to specify when and why a decision was made to sell.

In 2009, William Watt, then director of planning and environmental services for Invercargill City Council, told the Southland Times that the land would be one of the South Island’s most strategic industrial sites.

Watt said he only saw a problem for the taxpayer if he sat for years without being sold, and believed it could be 15 to 20 years before he was fully developed.

Last month, Watt, who no longer works for the council, told Local Democracy Reporting that Invercargill was sorely lacking in industrial land and that farmland was considered a “fairly important site.”

“The intention has always been that this would be a long-term strategy of the council to facilitate industrial development as a means of maintaining and increasing the economic critical mass of Invercargill,” he said.

“It was a two-pronged goal: to maintain and secure the historical and cultural side of it, which is the Awarua radio station and the houses there, and the other thing was the industrial land.”

Watt said that at the time of the purchase, the council hoped the land could be used for an industry such as lignite and timber processing, or even offshore oil prospects.

Invercargill City Council has sold most of the land it owns in Awarua, just south of Invercargill.  Photo / ODT
Invercargill City Council has sold most of the land it owns in Awarua, just south of Invercargill. Photo / ODT

He said the council used to buy before industrial development.

In another twist, the council’s 2017/18 and 2018/19 annual reports show canceled loans of $ 240,000 from Invercargill City Holdings Limited to Invercargill City Property Limited that were only repayable if the project was successful.

When asked how much it cost the city council to hold the land from the time of purchase until the time of sale, the council declined to comment, saying the information was not available for the moment.

Part of Awarua’s land that will be kept by the city council also houses a toxic Ouvea premix, a waste from the Tiwai Point aluminum smelter.

A Rio Tinto spokesperson confirmed that there were 1,800 tonnes of Ouvea Premix on site at Taha Asia Pacific’s former Awarua address.

The Mayor of Invercargill, Sir Tim Shadbolt.  Photo / ODT
The Mayor of Invercargill, Sir Tim Shadbolt. Photo / ODT

Information obtained under the Official Information Act this week showed that in September, the council’s chief executive officer, Clare Hadley, wrote a letter to the mayor detailing the options available for the removal of her personal items from addresses belonging to the council, including the Awarua farm.

“There are also a small number of items – mainly a papier mache bust of yourself – in the basement that could be transferred to the same destination you choose for Awarua’s items,” Hadley wrote. at the time.

While a buy-and-sell agreement was unconditional on Awarua’s properties for the past three months, the settlement would only take place in the new year, a council spokesperson said.