By PHILIP CHANDLER
Thanks to government funding, Queenstown’s mayor’s hopeful construction of the first phase of the resort’s long-awaited CBD arterial bypass will start in the second quarter of next year.
In a wide-ranging interview, Jim Boult talks about the government’s $85 million contribution to Queenstown’s arterial road/streetscapes project, expresses confidence migrants’ visas will be renewed and ticks off Air New Zealand for inflated airfares.
Boult’s lobbied for infrastructure funding since he became mayor in 2016, but it’s taken a pandemic to fast-forward it.
Because he couldn’t initially get funding, he then successfully pushed for a visitor levy.
“We were pretty close to getting that legislation into Parliament to enable that to occur, when along came Covid-19.”
The levy’s now been parked – even if it had gone ahead, Boult concedes it would have been a while till it was operational.
After the government called for shovel-ready projects, in a bid to stoke the post-Covid economy, Queenstown’s council put up its hand in a bid to counter the hit to our tourism economy.
Boult: “I spent a lot of time on Zoom meetings with various parties involved, both at the political and executive levels in government, and then paid a few visits to Wellington.
“I was highly delighted when the Prime Minister turned up here, Friday week ago, and announced we’d be the recipients of the first shovel-ready projects, and the size of the funding available for that.”
Boult, who says he was “over the moon”, also gives a shout-out to Cabinet Ministers Phil Twyford, Kelvin Davis, Shane Jones and David Parker.
“The government have recognised the genuine need of this district.
“Just on that, what a great time to do it when we haven’t got too many visitors in town.”
However, because of that, Boult says a journo asked him if there was still a need for the bypass.
But given it’s been talked about since the ’90s, he reasons “if there was a need then, there sure as hell is now, even if we have slipped back a bit from where we were”.
“If we don’t do it now, we’ll blame ourselves in a couple of years.”
He adds the streetscape project will also result in a very pedestrian-friendly CBD with vehicles travelling at 10kmh.
When it comes to building the initial Melbourne Street/Henry St bypass, Boult accepts it will attract large construction companies.
“What I have said is I want local contractors to be involved [as well].”
He also believes it’s realistic laid-off tourism workers could fill the 300 jobs that’ll be created by this fast-tracked arterial bypass/streetscape project.
He’s still hopeful the government will fund further shovel-ready projects down the track including a CBD bus exchange and the other two bypass phases, running from Memorial/Man Sts to the One Mile roundabout.
He reiterates Queenstown Memorial Centre won’t be bowled till there’s a replacement built as part of the town centre project.
Meanwhile, Boult’s confident the government will also listen to Queenstown on another burning issue – the prospect of still-employed migrant workers being able to renew visas to continue their jobs in the tourism industry.
“I have a degree of confidence the government is hearing our message on this and that we will get visas rolled over.
“It’s a government decision, but my strong hope is if you’ve got a job at the present time, you’ll be able to keep it.”
However, he does reserve a serve for part-government-owned Air NZ.
“I’m slightly disappointed in Air NZ’s fare structure.”
Boult says he’d planned to go to Auckland on Friday but was put off at having to pay $350 to go up and $450 to get back.
“I fully understand Air NZ have got to make a dollar, but I just ask them to bear in mind the situation the rest of the country’s in, at the moment.”
Finally, on the prospect of Queenstown offering quarantine to returning Kiwis, he says that’s up to government.
“But what I’m asking government is to assure us that firstly they’ve been checked before they come here, and secondly that they have the right protocols to ensure that they are isolated.
“And we have a terribly small hospital which at this time of the year is pretty much run off its feet with snowsports injuries, and I’m just not sure we are equipped for this.”