Regional council edges closer to extinction

The hot seats: Queenstown council candidates at the Memorial Centre last week

PARTING SHOT: Amongst the gravels of chest-beating and platitude-delivering last week, some golden nuggets emerged.

Hundreds flowed into Queenstown’s Memorial Centre in the hope of discovering more about our local council and mayoral candidates.

There didn’t appear to be any knockout strikes from the five men vying for the mayoralty, although Lyal Cocks possibly gave himself an uppercut with a wishy-washy statement about Queenstown’s growth – “it may and, then again, it may not”.

Among council candidates, there were pre-meditated picks at previous councils.

Val Miller: “For three years I have heard locals’ dissatisfaction in the direction of Queenstown’s growth.”

Mike Ramsay: “While certain councillors currently incumbent have gone on about ‘we’re on the cusp of change’, I believe those changes should have already occurred.”

On the defensive, hands appeared to be straining against central government ropes.

Councillor Simon Stamers-Smith: “Council under the Local Government Act essentially is reactive rather than proactive – and that’s just the way things work.”

While colleague Alexa Forbes says: “Affordable housing doesn’t actually fall under our remit.”

A sign of plans going awry is contained in Merv Aoake’s answer about what he would have done differently, reflecting on the last three years.

“Challenging some of the decisions that may have been made to the point where we exhaust that discussion so whatever decision we are making is the right one.”

It was a difficult format for prospective councillors – just one minute to make their pitch and one or two follow-up questions from the excellent MC Sean Plunket.

The Q+A at the end sluiced through some interesting views but, by my count, five – Stamers-Smith, Aoake, Niki Gladding, Tony Hill and Val Miller – didn’t get a word in.

It’s said that in politics it’s what isn’t said that matters, but that seems like a missed opportunity.

Plunket raised another.

He says it’s bizarre that a place like Queenstown doesn’t have a seat on the Otago Regional Council.

I realise this isn’t a new idea but perhaps it’s a claim Queenstowners should now make. If the tension and frustration uttered on the Memorial Centre’s stage is anything to go by, the regional council should be worried.

It’s seen as a handbrake on transport issues in the Wakatipu and singularly useless at trying to fix water quality issues in our lakes.

It closed its Queenstown office last December – four months after the death of its long-term staffer, the respected Colin Walker.

Queenstown ratepayers feel shafted. And the stamp of disagreeable feet grows louder, as a new council takes up the case.

What would happen if a group of decisive councillors and a well-connected mayor are voted to Queenstown’s council?

Faced with the regional council’s inaction, it might call for government help.

Given its history with ECan, the government might sack regional councillors and install commissioners.

The government says it wants to do more and spend more fixing Queenstown’s issues. Well, the regional council is an easy target – a shining example of uselessness.

Wisdom within the regional council’s walls seems as rare as gold in the Shotover River these days.

But surely it must see the glint of reason – that giving a seat to Queenstown is an easier prospect than facing the wrath of a government in election year.

CORRECTION: Last week I falsely accused Lyal Cocks of saying he wouldn’t be convicted, a supposed crack at rival Jim Boult. On double-checking my notes he didn’t say that and I apologise