OPINION: Levy referendum needs second question

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Murray Doyle is a businessman and long-time Arrowtown resident

OPINION: The visitor levy referendum misses an important point and should have an additional question added: does the community support the projected growth in our region?

Recent community surveys have revealed serious concerns about future projected growth. The referendum is a perfect opportunity to put these concerns to the whole community.

Our infrastructure is under obvious pressure, and the levy seeks to raise funds to address this, but let’s look at the numbers. Queenstown has 3 million visitors a year, and this number is projected to grow to 5 million in 2024. Annual GST revenues of $450 million will rise to $750m in 2024 if that projected growth materialises.

By 2024, on any given day on average we will have the population of Invercargill in and around the district.

From the $25m annual Tourism Infrastructure Fund created by the government, the area has so far been allocated $2.9m for public toilets.

Queenstown Lakes District Council has been left with few options to fund infrastructure given its small rating base, hence the idea of a visitor levy. From a numbers perspective, $500m out and only $3m back shows the government is not prepared to reinvest in the infrastructure required to support the projected growth in the area.

We all pay for lack of infrastructure. Quality of life diminishes as the roads get busier, you have to be vetted for a same-day appointment with a doctor and E. coli prevents you from swimming in Lake Hayes.

The serious issues of hospital care, education, water, sewerage and roading are multi-year, multi-billion-dollar issues, but should be planned for now.

The planning process surely should start with a foundation tenet that asks if the current infrastructure can cope with this development.

We have approved retirement villages with no provision for additional medical facilities when 80 per cent of health requirements are consumed in the last 20 per cent of life.

Let’s ask the community in the referendum if they support the projected growth.

A visitor levy can go hand-in-hand with this, but frankly the message to central government should be that we are full, and they should be looking to reinvest in the area rather than plucking the golden goose.

If the community responds as I suspect they may, then there is a clear mandate for the council to stop further development until we address the long-term structural issues. We already have thousands of consented sections in the area and large areas of commercial and industrial land that has not been built on, so we’re not talking about stopping growth and development, just putting a sensible brake on it via the consenting process.

Slower growth will give more time for the structural issues to be addressed. Sustainability is a touchstone of modern tourism, and because of our mountains and lakes we have the appearance of being 100 per cent pure, but the reality is that when you scratch the surface it is a lot different.