The Mayor’s house purchase

Stuff reports:

A prominent Wellington politician bought a large piece of land within an area known as being considered for development, months before more detailed plans were revealed to the public.

Lower Hutt Mayor , then a second-term councillor, purchased a house and 5.13ha of land on Upper Fitzherbert Rd in Wainuiomata North in early 2019. In November 2017 Barry was briefed on possible development options for the area by consultants. The options were not made public.

Shocking judgment for a Councillor to buy land in an area confidentially marked for potential development.

The documents shared with Stuff show Barry and other family members bought the property for $858,000 in February 2019. Zoned rural residential it is now potentially worth millions of dollars if the zoning is changed to residential as part of any future development.

Stuff investigations have revealed that a nearby 4ha property, valued at $540,000 in September 2019, sold recently for $1.9 million. The owner turned down another offer of $2.3m.

It is understood another two neighbouring properties, two blocks of 2.4ha each, both sold for $2m. And developers have been approaching other residents in the area since the release of the report.

So the fact it is now publicly known the area is likely to become developed, has led to sections selling for 300% over their CV. So Mayor Barry’s property might now be worth $2 million more than he paid for it.

The council knew the development, intended as part of a plan to address Lower Hutt’s growing housing crisis, would be unpopular because of its potential impact in a quiet, largely rural area.

Former mayor Ray Wallace, approached by Stuff, said “meetings were all ‘public excluded’, therefore all of the minutes would never be allowed to be released to the public during that sensitive process”. …

The documents and email exchanges show Barry was involved in planning for the development, including “public-excluded” briefings, meetings and workshops throughout 2017 and 2018.

Barry initially claimed he had not been to any briefings. He later clarified that he had attended a meeting at the Dowse Art Museum in November 2017, when consultants outlined “possible options” and some “blue-sky thinking” in Wainuiomata North.

So Mayor Barry denied he had been briefed at all, but later “clarified” he had been.

On at least one other occasion, he and Briggs were invited to an exclusive briefing on progress, documents show.

That progress included a then “confidential” 110-page report detailing well-developed plans for an 84.5ha subdivision, including between 1200 and 1800 homes, a possible new primary school and a small shopping centre.

So that’s two confidential briefings.

Barry insists he knew little of those plans because, despite being one of two Wainuiomata ward councillors, he did not attend any other briefings or meetings.

”I was aware of that fact, as was the wider public,” he replied in an email to Stuff.

But it seems the public knew little of those bigger, post-2016 plans.

As the development firmed, the council became so worried about information getting out and creating concern among residents and a “gold rush” for developers that it declined a number of information requests about what was happening in the area.

The fact prices now are so much higher than they were in 2019 strongly suggests that the public did not know of the plans, as you would not have picked up a five hectare block so cheaply.

Barry initially told Stuff that he sought legal advice on any possible conflict of interest before purchasing his Upper Fitzherbert property. The email Barry supplied to Stuff suggests that advice was sought after Barry had purchased the property.

So that is a second instance in which something Mayor Barry said was not accurate. He claimed he had not been briefed, and he had. He claimed he sought prior legal advice, but it seems he had not.

A little more than two months later, three years after the councillors and officers had begun an exhaustive, public-excluded process, producing a 110-page report and timeline for possible district plan changes, Miller canned the scheme and publicly released the plans.

She did that without first consulting the mayor and councillors, leaving senior officials “shocked” and “surprised”. One described it as “cavalier”.

So why did the Chief Executive ditch the plans?

UPDATE: Stuff has a second article on the issue, including comments from neighbours who are critical of the Mayor.

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