Has Auckland Council squandered millions of ratepayer dollars in a property development?
It’s billed as the biggest urbanisation project in the country, outside of the Christchurch rebuild. A public-private partnership between Auckland City and a major shopping mall developer. But IAN WISHART discovers ratepayer-funded multi-million dollar payments to the developer that the council doesn’t want to talk about, or let the documentation be released, and a developer who says the council has cost them a fortune.
There was a time, not so long ago, when anyone shooting up Auckland’s nor’western motorway came to a screeching halt at the very edge of the city. In the rear vision mirror, bright lights, big towers and urban sprawl. Through the windscreen, a T-junction where the motorway met Hobsonville Road and just stopped, dead. Across the road, rabbits frolicked happily amongst the grass, while the trees in ancient backyard orchards dangled juicy apples and sweet peaches from gnarly branches on trunks resembling contemporaries of Methuselah.
Not so long ago.
Then, in the 1990s, on the city side of Hobsonville Road, developers carved up sleepy hollows, booted out the sheep and gave us Westgate: the city limits shopping mall. Unlike the Westfield malls that feature all-weather covered shopping, Westgate was a giant carpark rimmed by big retailers.
The developers behind the project, New Zealand Retail Property Group (NZRPG), housed bigger ambitions, however. The prime mover behind NZRPG is Auckland businessman Mark Gunton. Nearly 87% of the company is owned by a trust associated with Gunton. Aside from Westgate, NZRPG own the Highbury and Milford shopping centres on Auckland’s north shore and Fraser Cove in Tauranga.
It is the meadowland at what was the end of the Northwestern Motorway that is slated to become the jewel in NZRPG’s crown, however.
Over the past decade, NZRPG and associated interests have purchased substantial landholdings on the northern side of Hobsonville Road, and as anyone driving past the area now knows, they are well on the way to constructing what they call “Westgate 2” and what the Auckland Council refers to as “Massey North”.
It’s been a largely under-the-radar development, a $1.2 billion plan to build a new “town” as part of the new supercity plan. The Massey North retail complex will rival the current Sylvia Park Mall in size, most of it in undercover shopping unlike neighbouring Westgate. When Auckland Mayor Len Brown and the Government’s Housing Minister Nick Smith talked up the housing supply on the city fringes, Massey North was one of the areas they were referring to.
But here’s where it gets interesting.
The Massey North development turns out to be a “public/private partnership” between NZRPG and the city council. For “council”, read “ratepayers”. And according to critics who’ve approached Investigate with internal council reports, this PPP appears to be a sweet deal for the “private” side of the partnership.
As anyone who has ever subdivided land knows, part of the cost of subdivision consent is setting aside areas of “reserve” that the council can have, and paying to construct roads within the subdivision that will then also vest in the council.
The way it works is the developer coughs up for the cost of internal roads for the subdivision, and if council requires any of them to be built to higher, arterial road standard, the council pays the difference in cost. It’s not rocket science, and the leading test case on the issue, Waitakere City Council v Estate Homes Limited, was decided by the Supreme Court back in 2006.
In fact, on this Massey North site itself, individual landowners, not affiliated with NZRPG, have been threatened with huge bills from council if they don’t give up some of their land for future road construction to the council. One resident, a widow warned her bill could be a million dollars under a principle known as ‘betterment’, complained to Mayor Len Brown, while on the other hand fellow landowner Cannuck Holdings Ltd – a company related to NZRPG – managed to get the council to agree in writing that “the Council will acquire that part of the CHL land required for road-widening under PWA [Public Works Act] and will compensate CHL for the land taken.”
So why, you may well wonder, have Auckland city ratepayers been asked to fork out around $7 million to pay for a street within the existing Westgate Mall that was built some 15 or so years ago? Great question, the story goes somewhat like this:
According to an internal council report, New Zealand Retail Property Group ran into financial difficulties during the planning for the Massey North development. They needed to sell assets quick to raise money. To help fund Massey North, they asked Auckland City Council to buy 6,000 or so square metres of internal roadway inside the existing Westgate Mall for between $6m and $7m. That’s a stonking great $1,000 per square metre of roadway. The council didn’t have to buy it, because that road had long ago been built and paid for. Nonetheless, council went ahead with the purchase, although to date they are resisting numerous requests to disclose publicly precisely how much they paid.
Curiously, the internal council report reveals that the valuations were based on ordinary values of countryside in the wider area. If true, that would mean two-hectare (20,000m2) lifestyle blocks in nearby Kumeu should be selling for $20 million, not $500,000. On the face of it, suggest complainants, clearly, something isn’t right. Why did ratepayers make effectively a $7 million gift to a private developer by purchasing an internal thoroughfare originally built and paid for back in the 1990s?
The internal council report speaks the answer this way: “It’s for the public good”. The way council sees it, they’d prefer to pay millions to developers in public-private partnerships who can’t meet their obligations, than see lynchpin projects like Massey North delayed. There was a risk, officials told councillors, that the entire project could collapse if NZRPG did not get some quick cash from the council.
On the one hand, it’s an argument that is hard to argue with. The new mall complex, at 77,000m2, will rival Sylvia Park and provide hundreds of local jobs, as well as increase the value of properties in the rural northwest of Auckland by bringing such a huge shopping hub so close. With Auckland’s controversial draft unitary plan hanging on city limits developments like this, it is easy to see why it’s become a political cause as well. But on the other hand, critics argue, “at what price?”
Other developers, they say, are not getting multi-million dollar handouts from ratepayers. Why should the public pay the city council’s favoured property developers to get even richer?
It’s a good question. Mall developers are not the ordinary breed of subdivider, they’re like the SAS of the construction sector, with a special ability to get planning dispensation on things mere mortals and ordinary rich-listers would find impossible.
“If you wanted a nuclear power plant built in the city, these guys could get consent to do it,” remarked Mt Wellington resident Brent Murdoch, only half-jokingly, to The Aucklander back in 2010. Murdoch was opposed to planning consents allowing Sylvia Park’s owner, the Kiwi Income Property Trust, to build 20 storey office blocks on its site.
Mark Gunton’s NZRPG, likewise, hit local bite-back from North Shore residents when he announced plans to build similar towers above the Milford shopping centre. Of course, now that the draft unitary plan has been unveiled with its blueprints for multi-storey buildings all along suburban streets throughout Auckland, the wider agenda has started to become clear – these developers were simply adjusting their plans to what they apparently knew was around the corner.
The $7 million paid for an existing internal street within the Westgate Mall is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the critics label ‘corporate welfare’, however. Ratepayers are being asked for fork out around $30 million in total to NZRPG, according to internal council reports. The council claims NZRPG was upfront about being in financial difficulties and needing the council to buy some of its assets. The question is, what were those “assets” really worth?
The council report gives as an example a 1500m2 site in the proposed Massey North development suitable for a town library. “NZRPG values the library land at over $1.8 million, whereas Council’s valuation is $0.59 million”. For anyone who can’t do the math, NZRPG wanted three times more for the land than council had valued it at.
But again, here’s where it gets interesting. Even at the lower level, the council is clearly valuing land in Massey North at around $400,000 per 1000m2, or $4m per hectare. That’s a massive increase on existing lifestyle block prices, by a factor of about 20x. So what are we to make of NZRPG then asking ratepayers to fork out three times more than the already inflated council valuation?
Auckland councillors were informed that the council had calculated NZRPG’s assets on offer “valued at pre PC15 [Plan Change 15, the official moniker for Massey North] zoning levels, ie, as Countryside Environment. If Council seeks to purchase these assets after the town centre is built then the price will be significantly higher.”
If the library land was valued at ordinary “countryside” levels, that would make a 10 hectare lifestyle block in Auckland worth around $40 million, not the two million or so that most people would pay. It appears obvious even the council’s valuation was
way off the mark. If you then go on and accept NZRPG’s valuation of land for sale to ratepayers, then you are saying a 10 hectare lifestyle block is worth $120 million.
Normally when a company is in financial difficulty and wants to flick off assets quickly, they go cheaper, not three times higher. To understand NZRPG’s financial situation when this was going down, you only have to examine the news stories.
NZRPG had set up a subsidiary company called Westgate Power Centre to hold its existing Westgate mall assets, but in 2009 with the global financial crisis in full swing, Westgate Power Centre was in trouble.
“The cheques are still in the mail for long-suffering minority shareholders in Westgate Power Centre, although investors have been hearing that story for some time,” wrote Fairfax’s Greg Ninness in February 2011.
“Minority shareholders in the company, which owns the Westgate Power Centre in Auckland and Fraser Cove Shopping Centre in Tauranga, were supposed to have their shares redeemed for cash by the company’s majority shareholder, NZ Retail Property Group, in February 2009.
“But NZRPG, which is majority owned by interests associated with directors Bryce Donne and Mark Gunton, did not have the $12 million in cash required and defaulted on the payment. Since then, the company has embarked on a major asset-sale programme, selling individual retail units at both Westgate and Fraser Cove, but so far the minority shareholders are yet to see any of the cash.
“In December  Gunton said he expected to send shareholders their overdue cheques by December 22, meaning they would have had them for Christmas. ‘It will be nice to clap them on the shoulder and say there’s your money back’, Gunton said at the time. But the cheques never arrived.”
Soon after that article was printed in the Sunday Star-Times in February 2011, the cheques did finally arrive. It goes to show just how tight things were for NZRPG, as it tried to negotiate a share buyback and the costs associated with planning for Massey North.
Clearly, NZRPG was bleeding money at this period in time, which makes its property and infrastructure deals with the Auckland Council fascinating.
Part of the construction project for Massey North involved tearing down the massive overhead Transpower pylon lines, and re-routing the electricity supply underground. Normally, as anyone who has built on a lifestyle block can attest, the subdivider or new home builder pays the cost of any power assets required, and then “gifts” those assets to the lines company.
In the case of Massey North, however, the Council ended up on the wrong end of a deal to pay a large chunk of the $17 million cost of putting the Transpower lines underground. The first two million dollars was paid by council, with the balance of $15 million supposed to be paid on completion in a 65/35 split between NZRPG and the Council respectively. Nearly ten million dollars was supposed to be paid by NZRPG, and a little over $5 million was the council’s share. Nonetheless, because of NZRPG’s financial plight, Auckland ratepayers had to pay the full whack to Transpower, because when the bill fell due NZRPG was allegedly not able to pay it.
Now, this electricity deal to put the lines underground is also fascinating for another reason, critics have told Investigate. Transpower has a requirement known as its “Corridor Management Policy” which forbids constructing buildings directly underneath high voltage pylon lines. These overhead lines cut a massive swathe through the proposed Massey North township, which you will recall is a project valued at $1.2 billion.
The added value to NZRPG’s land of getting those overhead lines removed, and thus allowing shops and houses to be built in what would have been Transpower’s “corridor”, may have far exceeded the $17 million cost of putting the high tension lines underground, so critics have asked in their official complaints why ratepayers have had to fork out any of that money when the commercial capital gain benefit clearly lay with NZRPG.
One of the other deals done was for Council to contract NZRPG to carry out infrastructure development work for the Council in the Massey North project. Critics have told the council that normally such big contracts involving public money are put out to competitive tender, but in this case that did not happen and the Ombudsman is investigating a rival developer’s allegation that the contract again involves much higher payments to the NZRPG-led consortium than normal.
To put it in simple terms, critics say, the developer of the land – having agreed to sell a chunk of land to the Council for its public works purposes, then offers to act as the Council’s project manager or head contractor on site, arranging for sub-contractors to come and work on the Council areas. The Council, instead of bringing in a project manager/head contractor entirely separate from everyone else or putting the job out to tender, accepts NZRPG’s offer and agrees to pay them a management fee of 8.5% of the value of the work done.
If this were a Disney movie, say critics, Auckland Council would be the foolish Pinocchio, accepting too much uncritically.
Auckland Council has publicly indicated it is investing $300 million in the Massey North development and nearby areas, which is a huge amount of ratepayer funding. Two hundred million of that ratepayers’ cash is exclusively being spent at Massey North alone. The total value of the Massey North development is said to be $1.2 billion.
One of the NZRPG project contracts was signed by then-NZRPG director Bryce Donne, and the contract provided for NZRPG to act as Council’s agent in getting earthworks done on the massive site. Even though NZRPG had no significant background in doing civil works for councils or government, it would earn that previously-mentioned 8.5% management fee on the value of the contracted works.
Although the Council and its lawyers approved the contract wording, there was no requirement for the earthworks to be put to competitive tender. So NZRPG just happened to appoint A & R Earthmovers Ltd, a company also directed by Bryce Donne and sharing the same registered office as NZRPG, to do the earthworks. Although Donne is no longer a director of NZRPG he remains a shareholder in the company.
In other words, the actual size in dollar terms of the NZRPG 8.5% fee was dependent on the actual cost of the earthworks, and the earthworks were being done by a related company, arguably at high prices according to critics.
Earthmoving costs, for example, have been listed at a rate of $10 per cubic metre for “bulk cut to stockpile”, but other contractors have reportedly done the same kind of work for $3.25 per cubic metre, according to an official complaint on the Massey North project. When you are moving hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of earth or more, these things make a difference. If you as a head contractor are earning an 8.5% fee on $10 per cubic metre, it is considerably more than the 8.5% fee you might have earned if a cheaper subcontractor had done the same work at $3.25 a unit.
None of this is illegal or even immoral, and you can’t blame private enterprise – when given a blank cheque to play with – for taking advantage of commercial opportunities. It’s not the job of private enterprise to babysit the Council through sharp contractual negotiations, but with millions of dollars in ratepayer funding at issue the critics believe there’s a potentially massive conflict of interest and have protested to council, the Auditor-General and the Ombudsman asking to see the contract and independent valuation documents, and proof that there was a transparent, independent tender process at all levels of the various contracts. The council is refusing to hand over the information, citing commercial sensitivity.
The Council admits that although competitive tenders were not held in key parts of the contracts, it argues it did take independent advice to ensure it was getting value for money.
Internal council reports indicate it has attempted to justify its special payments in regard to Massey North. For example, it says it offered millions for the street in the existing Westgate Mall because it will form part of the bus route into the new town.
The Council also argues it can claw back the money it needs from development contributions from ratepayers in coming years. These are “contributions” that landowners are required to make to council every time they subdivide or develop a property. In Auckland city’s urban areas, those charges exceed $20,000 if you wish to split your section in two. Of course, those costs are eventually passed on to housebuyers or tenants, so the Council’s argument is that it can afford big payouts to NZRPG because Aucklanders can foot the bill later. With plans to allow much more infill housing in Auckland, you can see how the Council stands to potentially make a lot of money, and how Aucklanders’ wallets will be tapped to cover the massive expenses of Massey North.
The critics say that while there may turn out to be reasonable explanations for why private companies associated with NZRPG are apparently being paid well above market rates for their work, ratepayers cannot assess the reasonableness unless they are given access to the documents.
Again, blame for this, if blame is eventually apportioned, rests entirely with Council. There’s a principle in law called “contributory negligence”, which means that if you lose money because you were not careful, it is your fault. Council knew the rules regarding its stewardship of public monies, Council took legal advice, Council agreed to the contracts. Even the critics say they admire NZRPG’s business acumen in getting contracts so advantageous out of a civil works project. It is the Council that is responsible for any wastage of public money if it exists, and responsible ultimately for the contracts it signs.
There’s another angle to this as well. Release of the council documents would show for certain just how much ratepayers have actually paid to NZRPG for its land. Now that NZRPG has just onsold sold four hectares of that land – the designated shopping mall land – to another property developer for $25 million, or $625 per square metre, it will be easy to see whether ratepayers got a good deal in their purchase of the $7 million Westgate Mall street for a reported $1,000 per square metre, or the $17 million Council agreed to pay NZRPG for land used for the new town square, library site and roads.
Investigate magazine is aware that all this is a sensitive issue inside Auckland City Council headquarters. So much so that Council asked the Crown solicitor’s office, Meredith Connell & Co, to investigate the allegations surrounding the NZRPG contracts. We know that a number of critics were never contacted in that investigation, and we know that the Council is now refusing to release the results of that investigation as well.
With the National Government urging more “public-private partnerships” for major infrastructure projects around New Zealand, ratepayers in Auckland and elsewhere run a risk of incurring big financial bills that benefit the chosen private partners, if there is not full commercial transparency.
With all this in mind, Investigate asked Auckland Mayor Len Brown to comment on the apparent high payments to NZRPG and its associates in the Massey North project. The mayor’s team refused to make him available.
By now, you may be thinking, like us, that the council has some explaining to do. Thankfully, even if the Council was running for cover, NZRPG was not, and agreed to answer the claims from critics.
Director Mark Gunton says he wasn’t aware of complaints to the Ombudsman or the Auditor-General, nor had the Council ever briefed him on what it wrote in its internal report from May 2009 – the one where the council wrote it was buying the assets because “NZRPG has informed Council it is having trouble funding the overall project and this is one of the reasons they have asked Council to buy the assets.”
Gunton isn’t impressed at the way Council portrayed it. The whole idea of building a town at Massey North was Council’s, not his, and was in return for NZRPG not building further on the existing Westgate site.
“Absolutely! We’ve got a lovely shopping centre at Westgate that we were perfectly entitled to develop into a mall [on its current site], and Council arrived in our offices in January 2002 and said ‘Don’t do that, let’s build a town’. And we have travelled that journey now for eleven and a half years at no small cost as you can imagine.
“We’re terribly frustrated that the process has taken so long that only now are we anticipating being able to build something in what is a Council-determined outcome. It’s their plan, right? People moan and groan, but the reality is the Council sat with us for eleven and a half years and ground us through a comprehensive development plan, and determined that the outcome they wanted here was a town of some substance, and we have staggered, punch-drunk, from one crisis to another. It’s been a long torturous process.
“Now, looking at the purchase of Westgate Street, it would have been done on the basis of an independent valuation. I would doubt that Council would agree to acquisition without that happening.”
As for the alleged $7m price?
“Mate, they got a bargain. The leverage that was applied by Council to get the deals done, we had no choice over, but I would argue till I’m blue in the face that they got very well-priced assets.
“We didn’t go to them and say ‘Buy the road and save our soul’, they had a requirement because they needed to buy the road to get parallel access to the motorway system. The agony they had was that it was our ‘Main Street’ not theirs.”
Mark Gunton says the asset prices were based on the overall cost of the development and the cost of servicing bank loans.
“We have resource consents now for some 200-odd thousand square metres of retail and town centre development, and we’d like to think we will commence building that this spring. I mean, it’s a town so it will go on for a long time.
“Just bear in mind in terms of the road purchase – they are buying a fully developed, sealed and paved road. They’re not buying a bit of land. Council never willy-nilly just write a cheque out for what somebody wants.
“The fact of the matter is, we’ve spent north of $70 million standing the test of time over eleven and a half years of the planning process to deliver an outcome that they requested we undertake with them through a Memorandum of Understanding that we signed in 2004 for God’s sake. The Council should not feel aggrieved about this, we are the ones who feel the aggrieved party in this whole process.”
In regard to the cost of undergrounding the Transpower powerlines, Gunton is equally adamant: this town idea was Council’s, not his, and Council should have worn the full cost. As it is, he says NZRPG will be honouring its commitment to pay the 9.75 million outstanding.
“We have reached an agreement with Council in terms of payment, and that’s privy to Council. I’m sure if they want to release it they can. We have an obligation to pay that money and have agreed to do that. But I deeply resent having to pay it. This is a town centre development which the Council have very much been in control of the process for the last 11 years and we’ve been dragged kicking and screaming through a planning process, for something they actually came to us and wanted, not something we actually went to them and said ‘let’s do this’.”
Gunton sighs the sigh of a property developer who literally feels like he’s in an Auckland City Council version of ‘Groundhog Day’, just another chapter in a 138 month neverending story where the weather changes but the situation is always strangely the same.
“What you need to get hold of,” he assures me after a moment, “is a report undertaken by Meredith Connell in 2010-11, undertaken at the behest of the council and engaging, I think, five lawyers for six weeks in the Crown law office, reviewing the totality of the contractual package and suite of documents that we entered into with the Council.
“It makes really interesting reading. I don’t have a copy, but I have had sections read to me.”
Gunton says the report, which as previously noted Council has not released, confirms that the contracts were proper and above board and that proper checks and balances were in place. He rejects criticisms of the A&R Earthmoving contract prices, saying that in the end they’ve come in significantly under the original quoted costs, and that the independent oversight put in place ensured no conflicts of interest actually arose.
“Their brief initially was to look for evidence of fraud, misappropriation, malfeasance, bad-faith dealings, all that sort of thing. My understanding is that the report eventually concluded that our deal set an example of how these things should actually be undertaken in the future.
“We entered a process with Council in 2002. The issue I have is – God bless Rodney Hide for creating the supercity, but it just stalled everything into a nonsensical environment. So we have suffered the planning nightmares for eleven and half years in a process that the Council came to us initially and asked as to party-up with them to do. The last five years have been a lost half-a-decade, and it’s been a pretty hard road to hoe.
“Along the way we’ve sold $70 million worth of property to fund the dream [while waiting for planning approval] so we’ve done our fair share, mate.”
Part of the reason NZRPG was in any financial difficulty was because of the Council’s grand plans, Gunton says. Instead of allowing NZRPG to expand the existing Westgate Mall and provide the financial growth that would have repaid small investors, that income stream was put on hold for the long term development of the new town.
The initial investor bonds for the first Westgate Mall were paid back in 2008, but further instalments that fell due in 2009 couldn’t be paid because banks were refusing to refinance in light of the global financial crash.
“No bank in its right mind was going to fund anybody at that time to replace equity with debt.”
Gunton says the same pressures were coming on NZRPG over council delays in sorting out planning permission during the supercity transition. The project had begun in 2002, and by 2009 there wasn’t even a hole in the ground to show for it. “They were saying ‘how long is this piece of string guys? We do not want to continue to fund this debacle that you’ve got into in terms of the planning process’.
“Hindsight’s always 20/20. If I had known back in 2002 that I was going to be dragged kicking and screaming through a process that’s taken longer – given it was Council’s idea to do this – than it took Kiwi [Income Property Trust] to do Sylvia Park in terms of planning, I would have never entered the process. I would have just built what we needed to build here [at Westgate]. Every week there’s a new planner turning up with a new idea of how the world should turn.
“As the Chinese proverbs would say, ‘an interesting experience’.”
NZRPG’s General Manager, Campbell Barbour, says the controversy surrounding Massey North is largely because the development is unique. It is not just a routine subdivision, he says, as critics try to compare it to:
“It’s bespoke, because this was a master plan building a new town, a public-private partnership type of arrangement, so the traditional approach where council is a regulatory body and the developer is some sort of private individual – they just never would have got there.
“There had to be a degree of cooperation, and the parties throwing stones over the fence at us don’t understand that if it wasn’t for that cooperative, collegiate approach the land would not have been zoned, the land would not have been developed, and there wouldn’t have been a town centre.
“The councils have been burnt with the likes of Albany, where there was a lot of council money poured into North Shore’s commercial node at Albany but the outcome is basically a lot of roads, a big mall and some bulk retail. It hasn’t produced the civic realm that they were looking for or the town form.
“At the end of the day, the owner of the existing Westgate shopping centre could have sat there, as Mark was saying to you, not cooperate with anything, and build a bloody big mall on his site, and there wouldn’t be a town.”
So just how big is the Massey North town going to be? The NZRPG town centre development covers some 50 hectares, and is mostly commercial and retail, but it is being built to service the new residential construction scheduled to take place in Kumeu and Huapai.
“There’s a relatively small sprinkling of residential development within Massey North,” says Barbour, “but this project is really designed to service the catchment that’s grown in the area over the last twenty years and the catchment predicted for the next twenty years.”
That catchment, if Len Brown’s unitary plan vision goes ahead will include 20,000 to 30,000 new homes in Kumeu and Taukapi over the next 20 or so years. In the old days, you would call that a ‘city’ with a population between 40-80,000 people.
“There’s really no normal approach to this,” remarks Barbour, “because no private developer has ever built a town, and never was going to. The civic component, the standard and quality, this is not a subdivision, this is not just building a road to subdivision standards, this is building the Queen Street of Northwest Auckland for the future.”
That, says NZRPG’s Gunton, is why the prices were higher: more engineering, more cost.
“Waitakere Council said ‘No, you buy the land Mark, you carry the cost of time, you carry the cost of planning, and we’ll provide the outcome by masterplanning the town, and you will deliver the outcome. We historically owned the roads through Westgate Mall and were quite happy to continue to do so. I mean, my dream is to be the old man who runs up the street collecting the threepenny bits out of the parking meters.”
Gunton says Council chose to buy the Westgate mall street because it needed the road to help service the new town.
“If we had built all the roads and held them in private ownership [instead of selling to Council], what you would have is Disneyland, not a town,” says Barbour.
So there it rests. The supercity’s construction of a satellite city at Westgate may be proceeding on site, but its pros and cons are hotly contested and as a blueprint for future private-public partnerships the critics would like more openness surrounding access to documentation.
Intriguingly, both NZRPG and its critics are calling for Council to release the Meredith Connell investigation into the deal, to silence the debate once and for all.