EDC Summary
Friday, April 24, 2015 at 11:33PM
Bill Barclay

There were several revelations that arose in today’s meeting, including subtleties may well have escaped a ‘casual’ observer. It was obvious that something was amiss when Greg Hampton's absence was noted - the project manager for the Coromandel Harbour Project, and the Hauraki Rail Trail.

It eventually became clear that the Senior Management Team have finally lost patience with progress on the production of the Business Plan for the Coromandel Harbour Project, and the current state of the Hauraki Rail Project. Project management has been taken over, and none too gently it would seem, by Hammond.

It appears that the ‘final’ draft of the CHP Business Plan that Greg Hampton and Francois Pienaar have struggled with for so long was the final straw. It was just going nowhere, and the involvement and all-important commitment of the Coromandel Mussel Farmers Association was not finally nailed down until Hammond and Leach met with them recently.

But where do you imagine that all ended up – like a damp squid to be honest, when they apparently agreed that the CMFA will take over the entire resource consent application task, with the Council acting as the "merchant banker" backing them.  Gilbert James is smarter than both of them, but he does not have the full support of all the farmers, let alone the major players, so he was never going to be able to deliver Leach's vision. Without TCDC taking the banker role, it was never going to happen, and Leach has too much swinging on it to allow that to happen.

Leach will be furious for me saying this but it all sounded like a dogs breakfast with the CMFA members actual financial commitment dependent on the success of the application - nothing up front, and their commitment securitised by some yet to be devised financial instrument that applies to each individually – imagine that! It is all to be accomplished with an MOU by June covering the $1m cost of the Resource Consent for Sugar-Loaf alone. We will be awaiting re-payment by the farmers until the cows come home – it is the greatest crock of shit if you will excuse the expression that I have ever heard emerge in recent times, and if that conforms to the legal advice that that they have received, then it is time they got new advisors.

Actually, it is simply to save face for Leach – he having loudly declared that nothing would proceed without the financial commitment of the farmers to fund the Resource Consent. In addition, the TCDC share has now been elevated to 50% just to cover the Health and Safety aspects – it is a back-down of enormous proportions by any other name.

But that is just the beginning with Hammond then announcing (not asking the Committee note!) that the project is now to be divided into two so as to avoid delay on the upgrade at Sugar-Loaf. Progress on this is to proceed even though the future of the ferry and the recreation and charter facilities remain unresolved. Clearly, these will have a major effect on the scale of the facilities sought in the second project, but the later project will need to wend its inevitable way through the Environment Court. It is equally inevitable that the TeKouma residents will challenge the Sugar-Loaf project, and thay won't tolerate the flexible industry/recreation/ferry approach being mooted. 

They have got themselves in such a bind that you could not tell today whether they were coming or going, and the frustration of Chair Brent Page was palpable. I detected an almost total inability to come to grips with the complexity of the whole shemozzle, and frankly, I don’t think it is entirely Greg’s fault – it was far too big a project to have landed him with, and he is now paying the price for Hammond’s incompetence in the first instance in having allowed it to meander to this point.

The second stage is still either a $9m (Furey's Creek) or a $60m (Inner Harbour) job, and either way they have a bull by the horns with all manner of engineering, dredging, and legal problems that are not going to go away. They appear determined to progress the $60m inner harbour option with all its various magnified ramifications, but it was agreed today when Brent pulled the rambling and incoherant presentation together, that a glossy project document is required that will be marketed to potential investors who Leach and Hammond seem to think are waiting in roadstead for this opportunity. Graham Christian even mentioned the $25m Hauraki pre-settlement that is looking for a home.

I gained the distinct impression that if substantial commercial interest is not forthcoming, that this entire Stage 2 could fade into history. It seems to me that the chances of it getting interest from investors with all the question-marks around fin-fish, consents, sediment pollution, participant contributions and court action are just about zero. Staggeringly, Hammond convinced them this morning that there was no need for a “peer-review” of this document because it would be subject to “due-diligence” by investors - yeah right! He claims that he will have the Project Document ready for the August meeting, despite Leach’s misgivings regarding that time-line. Others around the table urged caution, but Hammond remained ”Gung-Ho.”

By the end of this confused, incoherent presentation, Brent was just about at his wits end, and I think must suddenly have realised what a can of worms it was, and just how incompetent these people are who aim to carry it through. I am sure he will seek to knock it on the head if they don’t come up the goods, regardless of the alleged economic benefits set to accrue through "Blue Roads" etc. I gained the impression that the outsde members were all somewhat bemused, seeing the Coromandel project as the principal rationale for the Committee's existence. Graham Christian kept saying that they were looking for success here on the same scale as with the Great Walks, which had heartened them enormously.

The trouble is that Council staff are simply incompetent to plan and development a project of this nature - they have bounced around on scale and objectives like monkeys in a cage for nearly four years, and there has been no clear objective vision from day one - just dreaming mainly. Greg is best out of it to be sure!

As an afterthought Ben Day reminded the Committee that Hauraki District Council has secured the Stevenson's Quarry site at Kaiaua with its associated industrial/commercial designation for possible future use by the aquaculture industry - another risk that will need to factored into any project document. Oh boy, it gets worser and worser!

I thought I would give you the bad news first – now for something a little more cheerful to get your teeth into - the Great Walks.

Senior management apparently had a “great” meeting yesterday with the partners – DoC, Ngati Hei and Hahei Governance Group, and reached much needed agreement on the way the Great Walks should progress. It has now grown by the way to the Kuaotunu to Hot Water Beach Walkway, a change of direction. The first section now is now to be from Purangi to the Lees Road 250 Carpark (Carters’s), and from there to Cathedral Cove. Then Cathedral Cove/Hahei to Hot Water Beach via the Blowhole.

Whitianga to Purangi is not a problem apparently, and Leach was very mysterious about the crossing at Purangi – “All those sceptics (me I guess!) will find out that we have a solution for that!” I look forward to it - Paddle Boards, anyone?

What is amazing is that by approaching it in this direction and in this manner Leach and Hammond are convinced that it can be done regardless of the $1.8m Lottery Funding that they now seem quite coy about – not confident at all, regardless of the superb application that I could not fault. What should concern us is the District funding of the $1.2m Lees Road seal that is to take cars and walkers up to the carpark from the Purangi intersection. This funding has been put into the Long Term and Annual Plans quite separately from the Great Walks project funding, so is a bit of a furphy designed to hide the real cost of Walk.

Ngati Hei representatives have apparently relented on their demands for priority for the Hot Water Beach to Hahei section – said by Leach to be a “pragmatic” decision. Be that as it may, the big mover is DoC who are apparently putting in an additional $500k – that is what Leach indicated is the buffer that will remove the risk of Lottery Grant failure, and enable the project to proceed from the North. In that event, it will simply take much longer to achieve completion of side projects like the Blowhole access and platform. Stella Everard Trust has bought into the project in a fulsome manner, together with the making land available for the WW1 Forestry project.

It is interesting to see the sudden emphasis on the Lees Road Carpark – the central point of the whole deal, all designed to relieve the pressure on Hahei, and secure long absent Hahei resident support. Well that was Leach’s view – it will interesting to see how it develops. If it is true then it could indeed be the circuit-breaker, and change the tenor of the whole project.

Most readers will be aware that I can’t abide most of what Leach has done since he came into office, but I have to hand it to him on the Great Walks project. It really does appear to be getting legs, and most of that is down to his stubborn and hands-on involvement. He has pushed like hell and it appears to be coming together. I wish him well, and all the staff involved who have been under the hammer in the face of a great deal of opposition from many quarters, including myself.

What is clear is that John Gaukroger has been the principle catalyst in drawing it all together - without him I suspect that they would be in same bind they are in with the Coromandel Harbour Project. It was good to see credit given to John today - he is the difference here, just as he was down country on the 84km Pureora Forest Cycleway (Nga Haerenga) on which I did a post last year.

Hammond has promised Page that a new Project Document incorporating Plan A and Plan B (with and without the Lottery Grant) will come to the next meeting. The second round of the Grant process goes through today – I will follow it up.

More later!



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