Skyline upgrade flicked to court

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Thinking bigger: An artist's impression of Skyline Queenstown's proposed new complex

A Queenstown tourism giant’s plans for a $100 million redevelopment will go directly to the Environment Court – sent by bureaucrats.

Skyline Enterprises Ltd requested the resort’s council take the matter out of local planning hands.

It argued any decision on its plans for a 10-seat gondola, new buildings and redevelopment of its prominent site above the town will likely be appealed to the Environment Court anyway.

Council boss Mike Theelen agreed and used delegated powers on October 20 – after the new council had been elected but before it had met.

Theelen says he’s comfortable with that.

“This was done under delegation and discussed with mayor-elect Jim Boult at the time.”

He doesn’t believe the decision means less local scrutiny.

“No, part of the conditions agreed in the decision were to ensure it stayed local and heard in Queenstown.

“Furthermore, every person who made a submission on the application has the opportunity to become party to the Environment Court proceeding.”

The council will also summarise the submissions in its report to the court, which had been due to be heard by an independent hearings commissioner in December 5 to 7.

Theelen says direct referral is “a more efficient and cost-effective method” of determining the application for all involved.

It is not unprecedented.

The council has directly referred one other previous application: NZONE’s 2013 application for more flights.

Skyline has also agreed to pay all council costs, including expert and legal costs.

Skyline chairman Mark Quickfall says: “We are taking a pragmatic approach by avoiding wasting time and money for all participants.

“Going directly to the Environment Court won’t remove any rights of the submitters or opportunities to be heard.”

Skyline’s application names Ziptrek Ecotours directly as likely to appeal the decision.

The two firms were involved in a similar and long-running legal battle over helicopter landings at Skyline.

Ziptrek boss Trent Yeo couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.

Quickfall says the timing of the application, effectively between councils, was by chance.

“This is a project that has been underway for some time, and it’s just happened that this stage of the process has fallen during a council transition,” he says.

New mayor Jim Boult confirms he was consulted and says he’s “entirely comfortable” with it.

Quickfall adds the company has been communicating with submitters about their concerns.

“We understand there’s a great deal of interest in this project across the community and we have been – and will continue to be – transparent with all stakeholders,” he says.

He says the project is a major investment for the community “which reflects Queenstown’s continuing success as the tourism capital of New Zealand”.

paul.taylor@scene.co.nz