Audit NZ has found that HCC processes when buying central city land wasn't unlawful

The Mayor of Hamilton Andrew King wanted to extend the new CBD riverside park, so they city council CEO then approached the developers to see if they'd be interested in selling them the land to knock down the buildings in order to do so.

Discussions with developers over Hamilton's central city park were above board, an Audit NZ report has found.

However, there's room for improvement in how Hamilton City Council deals with urgent matters and emerging opportunities, according to the review.

In September 2017, Mayor Andrew King proposed bowling a block of central Hamilton buildings to extend a city park.

During the process, chief executive Richard Briggs spoke to two city developers about whether they'd be willing to sell buildings in the area.

Auditors were called in to review the process after suggestions Briggs' actions gave the two city developers an advantage.

That wasn't so, the Audit NZ report concluded, though council's usual processes weren't followed for the park proposal.

Some of King's involvement also blurred the lines of management and governance, the report said.

King first presented his vision of extending Victoria on the River (VOTR) to his fellow councillors in a September meeting, during a public-excluded session.

Briggs "initiated" the item, Audit NZ said, but King had talked publicly before about wanting to open the CBD up to the river - including in his mayoral campaign.

The September meeting was the first councillors heard of the central city park plan, though, and they were surprised by the informal discussions with developers.

King shared his vision and sought council support for considering it in the long-term plan, the audit report said.

Recent sales of properties in the area between VOTR and the proposed Waikato Regional Theatre site - the area proposed for the park - had lent an air of urgency to the project.

The "urgency and commercial sensitivity" of the project were the reason the usual processes weren't followed, Audit NZ said, but all councillors had a chance to debate the idea and to vote on how it progressed.

They were concerned there wasn't enough information - including on cost and also that King said he'd discussed whether one "party" would be willing to buy properties and "hold them for the city".

Councillors voted on instructions for the chief executive, the report said, though there may have been some "differences in understanding".

The instructions included working out whether property owners in the area were willing to sell and at what cost, and getting design drawings and potential costs.

Briggs phoned two property owners - developers Matt Stark and Leonard Gardner -  and found out they had their own vision for the park area.

They'd already discussed it with other relevant property owners, the audit report said.

Briggs then stopped all discussions to avoid potential competition between the visions.

However, it's not clear why he needed to arrange an October meeting with the mayor and the two property owners to discuss their respective visions, Audit NZ wrote.

King also briefed the architect on the vision for the concept designs, the report said, which may have blurred the lines between governance and management.

Any extra information for management should have come from the council as a whole, Audit NZ wrote.

"We acknowledge the mayor has a different view of this issue."

The eventual concept designs produced were not the "passive park" vision the mayor shared with his peers in September, the report said.

5 crossroads
In September 2017, Mayor Andrew King proposed bowling a block of central Hamilton buildings to extend a city park.