Court undecided on Skyline’s $100m upgrade

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Thinking bigger: An artist's impression of Skyline Queenstown's proposed new complex

The Environment Court says it hasn’t found a reason to decline consent for Skyline Enterprises’ $100 million-plus gondola redevelopment in Queenstown.

But it still hasn’t decided the “ultimate question” of whether the tourism giant should get consent.

Judge John Hassan and commissioners Kate Wilkinson and Russell Howie released their interim decision on Skyline’s direct referral for the redevelopment yesterday.

Skyline has been directed to talk to parties, including Queenstown’s council, Ziptrek Ecotours and others, on proposed conditions and serve a memorandum with updated conditions by September 1.

The tourism giant applied to Queenstown’s council last October for the initial direct referral to Environment Court, having unveiled its redevelopment plans in June.

The company intends to essentially double the total area of its complex on Bob’s Peak, including a wrap-around 430sqm viewing deck, rather than the present 68sqm platform.

The two-seat luge chairlift would be replaced by a four-seat chairlift with 34 10-seat gondola cabins and a new two-storey base terminal building is planned along with a multi-storeyed car park for 350 vehicles.

The company initially aimed to have it completed by July or August 2018.

But during the four-day Environment Court hearing in Queenstown in May, Skyline said the construction period would now be three to four years, subject to all required consents.

The interim decision made findings on seven issues, including the response to fire risk; the effects on landscape, streetscape and visual amenities; and conditions to mitigate construction-related business disruption for Ziptrek’s operations.

“We observe that no expert considered any of those [seven] issues were such that consent should not be granted.”

With respect to a submission from Ziptrek that Skyline should underground a power line on the site, the court found there were already suitable controls and precautions in place to mitigate any perceived risk and the companies should work together towards a joint fire risk and evacuation management plan.

In respect of the effects on the landscape and visual amenity values, the court found it was “self-evident” the proposal could not be hidden, but the gondola and upper terminal were part of the Queenstown landscape.

Existing facilities already presented elements inconsistent with the natural character and surrounding landscape and the change “would be tolerable”.

There would be temporary adverse effects during construction but they would diminish “relatively quickly”.

Ziptrek sought conditions for Skyline to either minimise a loss of business during the period the gondola would need to close, or compensate them for resulting losses.

The interim decision said the gondola was Skyline’s property and where Ziptrek relied on it to ferry its customers, “it ought to fairly carry all the business consequences (positive and negative) of that election”.

The court won’t make directions on any further procedural steps until the end of next month.

Otago Daily Times