The Otago Regional Council needs new headquarters and had looked at various options.
The one the majority of councillors appeared to favour was a modern design on the waterfront which was also the most expensive.
Counsellor Doug Brown went public with his concerns about that in an opinion piece in the ODT in February. His colleague Gerry Eckhoff added his arguments against the plans last Thursday. Tuesday’s paper carried 11 letters to the editor supporting him.
Proponents of the project excused the expense by saying it would be paid for from reserves not rates. But those reserves have been built up from rates and using them for that project would have meant they wouldn’t be available for other projects which would then have to be funded from rates.
There is never a good time to impose additional costs on ratepayers. The uncertain financial environment and questions over the role of councils after the government’s review of local authorities make this an even worse time to take the most expensive option for new headquarters.
On Wednesday the majority of councillors realised this and parked the waterfront plans and agreed to reconsider all options.
Today’s ODT editorial credits the council for its restraint and suggests another, better option for the new HQ:
The front-running option, at this stage, ought to be Dunedin’s former chief post office, as long as it can be bought for a modest amount.
The building is bigger than the council needs, but it has potential and several advantages.
Converting old buildings isn’t a cheap or easy option.
But if it could be done for a reasonable price it would bring life back to a now disused historic building and also help reinvigorate Princess Street.