OPINION: A light-hearted look at some of Queenstown’s issues

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YOURWORD- John Cushen

John Cushen is a Queenstown tourism adviser and sustainability lecturer

When the decision-making department on top of one’s shoulder starts to slow down, it is easy to become confused.

As I sit in my rocking chair, dressed in cardigan and slippers, there is a lot of fog surrounding my attempts to understand just what is happening to this once beautiful alpine lakeside town we call home.

I hear you say, ‘ah, he is one of those anti-development greenies’, well, perhaps I am becoming one.

Consider the following:

The mayor wants to ensure the majority are happy with a bed tax before he introduces it … there must be a local body election coming up … oh, there is.

I thought he was trying to get government to dribble some of the millions of dollars they get from tourist GST tax take, has he given up on that?

Introducing a visitor levy (commonly called a bed tax) seems easy as it lets us ratepayers off the hook and also lets other tourist business providers and service industries off as well … yes, a popular move with elections around the corner!

I would love to see the TAB odds on locals supporting a bed tax … of course most ratepayers, tourist attractions and activity providers, transport operators, etc, will vote a big YES as it means we do not have to cough up.

How do freedom campers pay a bed tax? They use infrastructure. Also some of us locals have friends and family visiting often … should we pay more rates than those who do not have visitors? Friends and family use infrastructure.

We are told we need millions of dollars for local infrastructure. Is infrastructure buying a wharf or a property on Ladies Mile?

Destination Queenstown wants more money from our council to ensure, among other aims, it successfully promotes our already-overcrowded town. Could that money not be spent on infrastructure and DQ charge their members more? Did not the members kick back at such a proposal last year although agreed to one this year?

Queenstown Airport (of which the council is the majority owner) wants to increase flights into town which means more tourists.

If more hotels are being built and more visitors come, will we not need more infrastructure which requires the council to get more money from somewhere? After a bed tax, the next option could be a significant rate rise … after the elections of course.

Oh, and Airbnb. I see that a doctor at Canterbury University has come up with a reason for all the pain caused by a lack of affordable housing (is there such a thing in here?) and high rental costs in Queenstown … it’s the proliferation of Airbnbs! Some of my friends in retirement homes told me that a couple of years ago.

Now, imagine if the council said ‘enough is enough’ at present.

If it stopped the expansion of the airport, halted profit-driven rural land being developed into high density housing, put a cap on further accommodation development, spent money on ensuring the infrastructure can cope with the present demands from visitors and locals, and spent a couple of minutes working out a way for Airbnbs to pay their way.

The flood of visitors will perhaps slow down.

Airbnbs will not make as much profit and some owners may return their properties to the rental or sale market.

The demand for builders and subbies will reduce and they will head to Dunedin to build the new hospital which will help that project.

The Ministry of Education will not have to build new schools and can spend that extra money on education.

Traffic jams will disappear, cars will not run at idle and Queenstown will reduce its green gas emissions.

Frankton and Kelvin Height residents will not be disturbed by increased air traffic.

We may also get some of the new $35 million international visitor levy being introduced by government and perhaps tap Kelvin Davis on the shoulder and see if there’s any money in that provincial growth fund that could be given to Mr Boult to develop cycleways, mobility scooter trails and other much-needed infrastructure.

But I cannot imagine this happening.

So as you wait patiently in a traffic jam, pay $700/week to rent a house in Fernhill and struggle on the minimum wage, think of John Lennon’s song, Imagine.

At least dreams are free.