INVERCARGILL city councillor Lindsay Abbot has voted against a recommendation to lease part of the Stead St Reserve, while a camping ground owner has fired a shot at the council over the process.
Cr Abbott has questioned whether existing camping ground owners have had enough of a say on the decision to amend the council’s management plan and lease part of Stead St Reserve to the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association.
Councillors at an infrastructure and services committee meeting last week voted in favour of the recommendation.
It also gained support at a full council meeting on Tuesday, but Cr Abbott raised concerns and opted to vote against it.
“I’ve read some reports and have had some dialogue with camping ground owners and they felt a bit intimidated that they couldn’t front up publicly because it would have a dramatic effect on their business if they made submissions.
“I’m not sure we have a level playing field,” Cr Abbott said.
Invercargill Top 10 Holiday Park owner Philip Todd confirmed he did not feel he could publicly submit on the matter because many of the points he wanted to make to the council were commercially sensitive.
He did not want to speak against the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association because the organisation currently provided a big portion of his business.
Mr Todd felt it would have been prudent for the council to engage with business owners who might be affected by such a move, but he said that never happened.
He estimated his business could lose “tens of thousands of dollars” through the decision to open up reserve land for the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association.
Mr Todd said he has been a commercial ratepayer for 20 years and employed nine staff in Invercargill.
He was frustrated by the limited engagement he has had from council.
“We hear about consultation time and time again, but the reality is we have a council that is disengaged and disinterested,” Mr Todd said.
“So while it’s okay to sit and make decisions about the income of a business, it’s not okay to talk to them. Or more importantly our staff, who will be the ones who will lose the most.
“There are many examples of the failure to engage with local business.”
Mr Todd said he emailed all councillors outlining his concerns, but only Cr Abbott and Cr Lloyd Esler responded.
Despite the potential impact on his business, he was more disappointed with the council’s decision-making process, which he did not believe was robust enough.
Mr Todd said he had doubts about the figures produced around the potential economic benefits of freeing up the reserve land for the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association.
The association had estimated visitors would spend on average $90 a day in Invercargill.
However, Mr Todd pointed to Selwyn District Council figures which suggested the average expenditure per person for domestic visitors was $52.15 a week.
Cr Lindsay Thomas, who is also the infrastructure and services committee chairman, said at Tuesday’s council meeting people had the opportunity to have their say throughout the process.
“That’s why we have the submission process. The submission process is for people for and against it to come to us.
“It’s unfortunate that they think they can’t get a fair hearing.”