Skyline carpark rockfall risk becomes bone of contention

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A RESORT lawyer’s calling for consistency after authorities say rockfall from Ben Lomond’s a risk to a planned car park building – but not for Queenstown’s council’s neighbouring Lakeview development.

Skyline Enterprises was back before the Environment Court this week for its multi-storey car parking building, part of an overall behemoth $100 million-plus development of its facilities and gondola.

A hearing on the larger development was held last May, but getting the green light seems to hinge on the provision of the carpark, proposed beside the lower terminal.

Lawyer Graeme Todd says rockfall wasn’t raised as an issue during last year’s hearing.

Queenstown’s council disputes that – and both it and the Otago Regional Council (ORC) say it’s something Skyline needs to address.

Council planning boss Tony Avery says the carpark “increases the number of people and facilities at risk, over and above the current risk”.

He says the carpark – a few hundred metres outside the council’s Plan Change 50 area, which extended the town centre – is within “the rockfall area”.

The council “indicated the rockfall hazard” during Skyline’s hearing last year, but the court determined that could be dealt with by conditions, Avery says.

Options for Skyline’s parking building include putting in “bunds” near the top, middle and bottom of the hill – between 3m and 6m high and up to 100m long.

It could also cover the walkway between the car park and the lower terminal, and use shock-absorbent materials in the building in case rocks fall.

Todd questions why Skyline’s “bending over backwards” to mitigate the risk, when there’s been nothing put in place to deal with potential rockfall on to the council-owned Lakeview site.

That’s a few hundred metres away from Skyline and also nestled under Ben Lomond.

Initially a convention centre and high-density residential development were planned on the 12ha site. But City Hall’s now in a process of selling the commercial development rights for about 3.4ha of the commercial land.

Todd believes Lakeview and Skyline’s lower buildings will be “similarly affected” by falling rocks.

But Avery says a geotech engineer found there’s no evidence suggesting the Lakeview site’s been “significantly affected by past seismic-induced hazards, such as rockfall, or large-scale mass movement or landslides”.

“This evidence was not challenged and the court accepted the hazards and issued its decision to approve PC50.”

When asked if potential Lakeview developers are being told they might have to manage rock fall hazards, Avery says it’ll be “part of any due diligence process that is run”.

Todd’s also questioning why the council, or the ORC, didn’t raise rockfall as a hazard through recent proposed district plan hearings, given Skyline knew “from the outset” of the carpark application it was an issue.

“We’ve just completed the hazards risk portion of the proposed district plan and it wasn’t even mentioned,” Todd says.

“If it’s an issue now that’s being raised in the context of this application, why wasn’t it raised by the regional council in terms of the QLDC’s proposed district plan or, by the council itself?”

On that, Avery says the rockfall’s a “specific hazard identified for a specific activity, which the applicant needs to show how they are going to mitigate it”.

“Given the mountainous area that we live in, there are many hazards that exist … and the approach has been that any activity will need to show how they mitigate any such risks”.

For its part, the ORC says because the Skyline application’s before the court, it can’t comment.

tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz