Update on the Godley House site

At the 1 November Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū Banks Peninsula Community Board meeting considering the future of the Godley House site, Council staff presented a proposal that the area of the previous Dark Star site (700sqm) should be offered for lease under s73(3) Reserves Act which allows for leasing of part of a recreation reserve for ‘non-recreation purposes’. This was after a previous Community Board meeting had discussed that proposal, or revocation of part of the reserve, or leasing to a café for ‘recreation purposes’. At that meeting the Community Board had asked for a clear recommendation of a preferred option.

Why had these options eventuated? Going back in time, think first of 1914 when the Lyttleton Borough Council purchased Godley House and the surrounding 336 acres from the Stoddart family. Fast forward to 1980 when a new lease for the Hotel was issued and a separate title surveyed but not registered. In 2002 and 2006 the Banks Peninsula District Council gazetted the area as a recreation reserve despite there being a licensed hotel with accommodation and a garden/gift shop on the site (which is incompatible with Reserve Status). Then forgetting what they had done, when the Council prepared the Stoddart Point Reserve Plan they excluded the Godley House site thinking it was Council freehold and when the district plan was rewritten as recently as 2016 the Godley House site was zoned Banks Peninsula Commercial and still is.

All of this was pointed out to the Council numerous times and again at the 1 November Board meeting where Pete Simpson on behalf of the DHCA did a presentation asking that as the gazettal of the site as recreation reserve was incorrect, they should uplift the designation and return it too freehold. Something which the Council has steadfastly refused to do, because after Godley House was demolished and the area grassed, it has ‘historic and recreational’ reserve values.

Many of the readers will have been following this saga since the 2010 quakes and wondering when the community’s wish for a licensed café will be realised. Extensive Council consultation was undertaken in 2011 and again as part of the SPRIG community lead 2013 ‘Getting to the Point’ exercise. Mayors, Councillors and Community Board members visited, and as fast as they concluded that something needed doing, they went. The 2017 Village Planning exercise involving further consultation was also largely community led, but Council was happy to exclude the main elephant in the toom – the Godley House site. Community frustration at the demise of the Dark Star in 2019, as the lease was established under the Earthquake Empowering legislation and could not be renewed, led to a 2,000-signatory petition asking for an ongoing venue on the site.

Council response was another round of consultation in 2020 asking people what they wanted on the site. Many of the 2011-13 ideas reappeared, however Council planners concluded that as the number of people wanting recreation on the area was more than those wanting a licensed café, that a licensed café was not necessary. Despite most people wanting recreation and a licensed café. It took further effort by DHCA and the Community Board to get though to Council staff that they should go away and find a way of providing for licenced café. The Council concluded that licenced premises were incompatible with the recreation reserve status (unless it is a rugby club) and tentatively moved towards revoking part of the reserve that had the least ‘reserve values’ – namely the Dark Star site, that still looks much like a demolition site. They tried to get DOC who approve revocations to give them the nod; DOC refused because it was not a formal application, but helpfully suggested the use of s73(3) Reserves Act.

This brings it back to 1 November meeting where a spirited Board member response to Council’s proposal to lease the 700sqm site, bolstered by Pete Simpson’s presentation, wrung a concession that any area up to 1500sqm on the recreation reserve could be chosen, as resolved below.

1. Request staff to prepare and release a Request for Proposals to fund, build and operate a commercial hospitality business on an area of up to 1500m2 of recreation reserve at Stoddart Point Reserve.

3.  Note that any proposal will need to demonstrate that the area concerned does not hold any reserve value.

Is this the end of the story? It might be the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end. First thing to note is that the Council are not offering any of their funding, despite hoovering up $1.5m (after demolition) of insurance money. On the plus side DOC approval for a lease is not required as it can be done by the Council Chief executive. The second obstacle is that any proposal/proposer will have to demonstrate the area chosen has ‘no reserve value’. This is almost impossible to find except for some of the Dark Star site. The Godley House foundations, as much as some people would like to see them go, are now protected and if the area was to be used, it would need to be built over. If the Council takes a liberal view, they could consider offsets e.g., improvements undertaken elsewhere in the reserve.

However, all of this has the potential to become fraught again. Whatever proposal that is put forward, even if Council staff are involved in the development of the RFP, may be to erect buildings of a shape, size or location that has the potential to antagonise some other sections of the community. The potential commercial developers have been given their head, but unless there is very skilled site selection, a backlash ‘Save our Reserve’ movement could easily develop. And note that any proposed lease must go out for further public consultation.

Meanwhile we await the next Council report back to the Community Board with an outline of the RFP documentation.

Richard Suggate