It’s Sam versus Warren II’ in Queenstown

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A rural resource consent application is rekindling memories of a slanging match between a Queenstown-based film star and former mayor. 

Movie star Sam Neill – historically a rigorous opponent of rural over-development – is one of three landowners trying to subdivide a 25-hectare Dalefield plot and create two house lots. 

The application’s been opposed by a council planner who says the proposed building sites are on the property’s most visible spots – and would degrade “the arcadian pastoral character of the site”. 

At a hearing this month, a Fitzpatrick Road neighbour said he feared losing valuable mountain views.
Neill created international headlines 13 years ago when he slammed then-mayor Warren Cooper for “willy-nilly” carving up Queenstown rural land. 

A combative Cooper replied that Neill had a “damned cheek” to stop others enjoying the area and should “stick to film-making”. 

Neill said he’d do that if Cooper stuck to house painting – the veteran politician’s former trade.
Even fellow movie star Clint Eastwood was enlisted in the ensuing tit-for-tat that was dubbed the ‘Sam & Warren Show’. 

Cooper says a friend of Neill’s recently told him about the actor’s resource consent application. 

“I just chuckled – he was chuckling too.” 

Asked what he thinks of Neill dabbling in rural subdivision, Cooper replies: “I never take the feeling that people are thoroughly involved in their positions over a long period of time. 

“I think we actually should share the place.” 

Asked about his slanging match with Neill, Cooper says: “It wasn’t a serious debate, it was tongue-in-cheek but a lot of people took it very seriously.” 

Emailed Cooper’s comments, Neill responds: “What a nice old man he is.” 

Asked to comment on his position as a would-be developer, as against someone who strongly opposed rural subdivision in 2000, Neill takes umbrage: “I think you are rather awry regarding my position in 2000. 

“My stated views both then and now are that I am not, and never was, opposed in any way to reasonable and sensible development – on the contrary. 

“Over-development is another thing altogether. 

“In this case, we are talking about two houses on 50 acres,” Neill says. 

“If it were subdivided at the level of Dalefield subdivision, for instance, we would be looking at 10 houses. 

“At the Lake Hayes Estate rate it would be perhaps 200 houses. 

“So it would be somewhat disingenuous of you if you characterise this as a ‘subdivision’ in the reckless sense we saw in 2000 when council was considerably more pro-development than it is now. 

“Splitting a 10-acre lot off 50 acres is another thing altogether.”