Christopher Ruthe says controversy continues to embroil Kapiti Coast District Council’s $4.6 million Gateway project.
It appears to be built on a crucial misrepresentation, he says.
‘The latest contribution comes from the Department of Conservation (DOC).
The project depends on KCDC achieving a growth in visitor numbers to Kapiti – from 14,000 to 58,000.
However, DOC’s own research suggests this is untrue.
Evidence of misrepresentation
By 2014 visitor numbers to Kapiti had fallen significantly. The then Minister of Conservation Nick Smith became alarmed. As a result DOC made an independent inquiry as to the reasons. Its findings, on the DOC web site:
Fee Sensitivity doc.govt.nz
“Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith today (20144) announced a reduction to Kapiti Island permit fees to come into effect from tomorrow.
Kapiti Island is an iconic landmark which deserves to be enjoyed by as many New Zealanders as possible. DOC will drop the permit fee for adults from $28.75 to $10.00 and waive the fee for all children aged 17 and under from tomorrow,” Dr Smith says. “There is a real lesson for DOC as there has been for Zealandia in Wellington that there is significant price sensitivity to these sorts of sanctuary experiences” [emphasis added].
The change, …, follows an independent review of Kapiti Island visitor management which was undertaken at the end of the 2013/14 summer season. DOC commissioned the review to address the steady decline in the number of visitors to Kapiti Island in recent years.”
DOC slashed its fees by 75%, from $28.75 to $10.00. DOC and Minister Sage however, have in effect represented ( by saying) that increasing fees by 25% to 50% (adult fee- from $80.00 to $100.00, child’s, from $40.00 to $60.00) will have no effect on the growth figures needed.
Why would a Minister and DOC contradict the findings of a report they acted on? Instead they made very strong submissions to the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) supporting the current KCDC proposal’s massive fee increases.
Contract law says there is fraudulent misrepresentation where there is the act of hiding a material fact which, if known to the other party, could have significantly altered the basis of a deal, or transaction”.
It the Provincial Growth Fund had been told of this material fact and if councillors had been told of this material fact, the whole business case would have collapsed.
One would have expected DOC, making submissions to the Provincial Growth Fund as a neutral Government agency, to alert the PGF to the risks of the current proposal.
Instead DOC has shredded the concept of Departmental neutrality and, in unison with Government Minister Sage come out swinging in vociferous support.
The DOC web site also reveals that it had investigated where a gateway should be built. It indicated it was best built on Kapiti Island. DOC failed to say the Paraparaumu Beach site was very much a second option.
There are two likely alternatives on visitor numbers.
The first is that the project will proceed and visitor numbers will flatten or fall, based on DOC’s own research.
The second should raise alarm bells to Kapiti ratepayers: Once the Gateway is built there will be pressure to maintain visitor numbers, requiring ratepayers to cover all the costs of the Gateway. Based on the disclosed figures, this will be $500,000 per year.