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Crunch time for Waitakere Testing Station

From the Western Front: by Liz Nevill

A $2.1m conditional offer to purchase the Waitakere Testing Station and commercially develop the surrounding reserve is rumored to have fallen through.
Sources close to council understand the conditional offer came from Vehicle Testing New Zealand which has now decided to investigate building a new Testing Station elsewhere in Waitakere City.

However, the council is understood to have other bidders for the Testing Station and land including On Road New Zealand who already operate a number of stations in the region.

The current state of offers, or lack of offers, will get an airing at tonight's full Council meeting when Waitakere Properties Ltd brief councillors on the progress of sale negotiations.

Waitakere City Council is justifying its decision to flog off the city owned asset without public consultation by deeming it to be insignificant both in terms of value to the city's asset base and in the money it contributes to council coffers.

The decision to dispose of the Moselle Avenue site for commercial development was made prior to Christmas. But the decision remained under wraps until it hit the front pages of local newspapers in January.

A hastily distributed petition calling on the Council to think again and rescind sale plans netted 6,000 signatures. The petition was presented to the full council by Cliff Gunning of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union. Signaturies were those of customers, ratepayers, and Testing Station staff who came back to work after Christmas to face an uncertain future.

Mr Gunning describes the council's response to the petition as one of "polite disinterest" which has so far not led to any opportunity for the public or testing station staff to raise concerns.

He says a growing number of residents and ratepayers are feeling betrayed by the council's determination to dispose of the Testing Station. "Back in 1995 they were assured by Mayor, Bob Harvey that 'no way' would the Testing Station be sold off to private enterprise" he says.

Independent councillors, Penny Hulse and Caroline Stone, are frank in their criticism of the sale and want to see it put on hold. Cr Hulse considers the sale is being driven by Go Waitakere councillors desperate to keep rates down in the short term to try to honour election promises.

"The proceeds from the sale, if it goes ahead, will simply service debt. In fact these proceeds may not even do that. The total netted funds could well end up being applied to reduce the volume of rates for this rating year only. Whereas, in my opinion the projected $760,000 profit from the Testing Station for the next financial year makes it a significant asset, and one which should remain in council ownership".

Cr Hulse says many people, including some councillors, are being frustrated by the lack of information being made available by the council on its privatisation plans for the Moselle Avenue site.

"I urge people to attend tonight's meeting", she says. "I urge them to telephone councillors prior to the meeting to demand clear and satisfactory answers to questions they have not had answered so far. While the public will not have speaking rights at this meeting they must take every opportunity to verbalise their dissatisfaction at the way they are being held at arms-length by council over this decision to sell off city assets. To sell, or not to sell, is a decision which should be made by the people of Waitakere, not by their elected councillors behind closed doors".

Cr Hulse says if the present conditional offer on the Testing Station is withdrawn residents could still have time to save the Testing Station from sell-off through submissions to the Annual Plan.
Ends

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