Stoush over lodge proposal

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A wealthy businessman involved in a luxury lodge project that’s sparked outrage in the Wakatipu is facing alleged criminal charges across the ditch in Australia.

Mountain Scene can reveal one of the directors behind Rees Valley Lodge Limited is Australian Denis Mackenzie, who’s been charged by Victoria’s anti-corruption watchdog with five counts of obtaining by deception over a failed schools project that cost taxpayers up to $240 million.

Rees Valley Lodge Ltd (RVL) is the company behind plans for a luxury lodge at Rees Valley Station, which has both Glenorchy residents and the Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) up in arms over helicopter noise, public consultation, and its proximity to conservation land.

FMC president Peter Wilson says it could set a “dangerous precedent”. He wants the resource consent application to be publicly notified by Queenstown’s council – meaning everyone could have their say. Attempts to contact Mackenzie for comment have not been answered.

The plan is for a “luxury lodge/retreat offering a high-end nature retreat, visitor accommodation and day spa service”.

It would include six guest chalets, an owner’s cottage, main lodge building, staff accommodation, and spa. It would be accessed primarily via helicopter.

The application touts the positives – jobs, money for Rees Valley Station, and the kind of high-end attraction “New Zealand’s tourism industry is keen to promote”.

But Wilson says: “A lodge of that size and scale, near a national park, it’s the first time we’ve seen something like that.

“Our biggest concern is that it’s not looking like the public are going to get to have a say.”

He says Glenorchy residents are “desperately concerned” by the proposal.

An online petition against the helicopter activity has received 377 signatures.

RVL sought affected party approval from Land Information NZ (LINZ) but it declined, saying there were still too many unknowns.

A LINZ senior portfolio manager’s emailed response is detailed in the application. “The site which is a pastoral lease is I believe within an outstanding natural landscape and very close to a National Park and major significant walking tracks,” it reads.

“I believe a first step is for the council to decide whether the proposal will have adverse effects on the environment that are more than minor, and if it concludes that there are, then under the RMA they may need to publicly notify the application.”

Heli Glenorchy, which would operate some of the flights, has sought resource consent to build a new base at Rees Valley, where it would run up to 3000 flights a year.

In its application the company says noise wouldn’t be an issue, with a noise assessment determining it’s far enough away from neighbours. Owner Nick Nicholson didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Mackenzie, along with former Victorian Department of Education and Training deputy secretary Darrell Fraser and CSG managing director Julie-Ann Kerin, was charged in May over the failed Ultranet project for Victorian government schools. Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission said at the time the Ultranet was intended to be an online teaching and learning system. It was cancelled in 2014, with estimates of its eventual cost ranging from $A127m to $A240m.

daisy.hudson@scene.co.nz