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University advocating for freedom to meet challenges

Thursday 22 September 2016 8:24am

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An aerial view showing some of the Dunedin campus.

The University of Otago is working to ensure its vital relationships with Dunedin Hospital and the Otago Museum stay fluid, and the campus retains its flexibility to house shops and business spin-offs.

University Property Services Division Resource Planner/Policy Advisor Murray Brass fears they could be compromised under the Dunedin City Council’s proposed Second Generation District Plan.

Mr Brass made the University’s submission on the draft plan to the council yesterday, along with Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne.

He says the University’s relationship with the hospital is vital to it providing the most sophisticated health care available in Otago and Southland.

While the existing campus zone covers Dunedin Hospital, under the proposed district plan the hospital would become a separate Major Facilities Zone, so it is essential to ensure the frequent interactions between the two organisations do not become more complex.

Mr Brass believes the plan “should enable rather than restrict” their relationship, and should not create “hurdles or disincentives” based purely on zone boundaries on a map.

Hospital rebuild

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Dunedin Hospital photographed from Signal Hill.

Because the hospital is scheduled for a major rebuild, some activities usually housed there could transfer to the University campus temporarily or long-term, to meet the public’s health needs in the best way possible.

Currently, when the hospital is under pressure, it can use some campus facilities. But under the proposed district plan, sharing facilities could involve seeking resource consent from the city council, boosting costs and the time involved.

“Given the importance of the interactions between the University and Hospital these restrictions are unjustified, and could significantly compromise people’s health and wellbeing by limiting future developments,” Mr Brass says.

So he is proposing some alternative wording for the proposed district plan which should keep the relationship fluid, and cover the Otago Museum as well.

Collaboration is also a hallmark of the University’s relationship with the museum and Mr Brass wants to ensure its change to a Major Facilities Zone as well will not unnecessarily complicate their interactions.

Shops and businesses

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Informal study and interaction … the University’s Information Services Building Link.

He is also concerned about the proposed plan’s effect on shops and the University’s spin-off businesses that are on the campus.

The proposed plan clusters businesses into zones – known as “centres” – and council planners say having businesses on the University campus could spark vacancies in Dunedin’s commercial “centres”.

But Mr Brass believes the University - as a community of about 20,000 students with the equivalent of 3,800 staff - needs food outlets for people, and the campus needs shops that sell specialist products, like text books.

Both the shops and cafes are unlikely to attract the general public because parking is scarce in the area.

The outlets are also key to the University’s plans for more areas for informal study and interaction, like the Information Services Building Link, between the Central Library and University Union building.

Start-up businesses

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Support for start-up businesses - the University’s Centre for Innovation.

As part of the University’s commitment to making an economic contribution - locally, nationally and globally - some firms are based on the campus as well; to use the University’s specialised equipment and because the University has formed joint ventures with the start-ups.

Once the companies can stand alone, depending on their on-going needs, they can stay on campus or move to other areas.

Mr Brass says because businesses on campus have often been sparked by the University’s research, and can only be created with the University’s support, expertise and equipment, they do not erode Dunedin’s “centres” but actually enhance overall activity in the city.

He believes the difficulties involved with having shops and companies on campus under the plan could be solved easily, by having the University’s “campus” zone recognised as a “centre” as well, where shops and businesses are expected to be located.

University roles changing

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Murray Brass.

He says the role of universities is constantly evolving so Otago wants to ensure it can keep developing without being restricted by current or past practices.

Universities have to retain flexibility as they move from being ivory towers, to connecting more with people’s lives, the community and the economy.

Mr Brass says Dunedin City Council staff have been positive and collaborative during the planning process so far, and the University hopes to continue in that spirit.

Other proposals in the plan that the University is debating include:

  • The Portobello Marine Laboratory and New Zealand Marine Studies Centre being zoned rural, so the University would have to seek consent for any training, education, campus activities, and new developments.
  • The Hocken Collection research library, historical archive and art gallery building being zoned in a way that does not cover all its activities; including conferences, functions, exhibitions, and offices.
  •  Changing the zone containing Student Health and the triangle of open space between Walsh Street and Malcolm Street from a campus zone to a “centre”, which would divide the University campus and restrict future development there.