Warren Cooper: ‘Jobbing out’ consent decision poor process

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Going up: An original model Poma car on the Skyline gondola PICTURE: ODT

OPINION: Skyline Enterprises had its genesis in the vision of the late Hylton Hensman, the doyen of Queenstown’s tourism pioneers.

I first got to know him in 1967 when, with a contingent of Southern Lakes people, we formed a promotion mission to Auckland. En route I accompanied him as he explored both Wellington and Rotorua for possible gondola lift sites. Fortunately, Queenstown was his chosen site.

It’s 49 years since Skyline launched the gondola to Bob’s Peak. I remember the day clearly. Lorraine and I were in the third gondola when it stopped 40 metres from the top. For several minutes we were tantalisingly close to the top terminal.

Teething problems on opening day.

Since then we’ve watched Skyline expand both here and offshore. The fact that tourism is now New Zealand’s top overseas earner would not surprise Hylton. He wasn’t a talker, he was a doer.

Now, nearly 50 years on, another teething problem. Skyline is seeking consent to invest $100 million to double existing capacity. You can ask, what’s it got to do with the writer? Let me explain.

Fifty years ago, as a borough councillor, I engaged in a battle with the incumbent mayor. We were both keen to see the gondola project succeed. He, however, wanted revenue from day one. I advocated a soft start, a less onerous lease. Agreement was reached on the formula.

We had acknowledged there was a financial risk.

Now Skyline requires a resource consent. It’s not simply a dwelling on a hillside, it’s a massive redevelopment.

At the request of Skyline, council has used delegated powers to agree the matter should go directly to the Environment Court. I have deep misgivings about this procedure. It could be described as ‘jobbing it out’.

I am loath to criticise our new council. They are simply inheritors of the previous council’s abject failure to grapple with the challenge of transport and parking.

It is quite unacceptable that two people, either planners or lawyers appointed by council, may have carte blanche in regard to future development on Ben Lomond Reserve.

We the public deserve to know what the bottom line is in regards to instructions given or to be given to those representing the council at the Environment Court.

Finally, it is inconceivable to me that the council is not negotiating with Skyline to provide 150 carparks within its proposed development. How can Skyline futureproof its massive investment unless parking is readily available?

Without additional parking, the often chaotic traffic conditions will inevitably multiply, and Brecon Street, which has been the gateway to a magic playground, will become less attractive.

If Skyline’s operation is to grow, its success will depend on accessibility for prospective clientele. Perhaps it’s time for our mayor Gentleman Jim to dialogue. Let our elected people decide – not a visiting court.

In my belief it should be no carparks, no resource consent.

Warren Cooper is a former Queenstown mayor and National Government minister