Let the Hunger Games begin

Standing for Queenstown: Some Wakatipu ward candidates and two-of-three mayoral candidates

It’s one of the biggest issues facing Queenstown’s council – how to balance growth and economic factors with the environment. Daisy Hudson went along to the first public candidates meeting this week to see how prospective councillors tackled the thorny subject

THERE were few ruffled feathers as candidates for Queenstown’s council were put through their paces in front of the public this week.

Held at Queenstown’s Kiwi Birdlife Park on Tuesday night and hosted by the Whakatipu Wildlife Trust, it was the first chance for candidates to get in front of a crowd – in this case 40-odd people rugged up in an attempt to stay warm.

In a departure from the usual town hall-type candidate meeting, Tuesday’s was held outdoors in the park’s caged amphitheatre.

It was a relatively tame affair, possibly disappointing anyone who hoped the feathers may fly.

Emcee and trust executive officer Leslie Van Gelder started the evening by saying she’d purposely kept the night’s theme, the environment, broad.

But most topics raised boiled down to the issue that’s dominated public discourse in Queenstown in recent years – growth, and how to manage it.

The council’s application to discharge wastewater into local waterways was a hot topic, popping up in several candidate speeches and providing some of the only fiery moments of the night.

Mayoral candidate Nik Kiddle gave a resounding “no” to the proposal, saying he wanted to see “the emphasis go back on the performance of the sub-contractors who are required to deliver those services”.

Rivals: Mayor Jim Boult, left, and challenger Nik Kiddle were all smiles

Wakatipu ward candidate John Glover took an even stronger view, calling the application a “massive misjudgement by the current council”.

“Our existing councillors either haven’t read the reports, don’t have the ability to speak up for themselves, or are massively out of touch with their constituents.”

But mayor Jim Boult defended his council’s move by saying it would save ratepayers cash.

Boult said the council had been repeatedly taken to court by the Otago Regional Council over spillages because of the district’s “ageing and decrepit pipe system”.

He said the application would prevent that from happening while the council worked to improve its infrastructure.

Perhaps surprisingly, there seemed to be a case of “don’t mention the airport”.

It’s been the biggest district-wide issue for months, but nary a peep was heard about it until a member of the audience asked a question late into the evening.

That question also once again highlighted the conflict between the council’s recent climate emergency declaration, and the prospect of airport growth in the district.

Candidate Niki Gladding was strongly opposed to increasing passenger numbers and airport expansion.

“I’m not buying into the long-term idea that we just keep offsetting, and I have the feeling that’s where they’re going, they’ll bring in more planes, and more people, and they’ll just say they’re offsetting.

“We actually have to reduce our carbon emissions.”

But incumbent councillor Penny Clark believed science and technology would save the day.

She pointed to planes with more passenger capacity, saying that would lead to fewer flights.

Tying into the airport issue was the question of whether Queenstown should continue to seek tourism growth, even if it was at the expense of locals.

Despite making a living through tourism as the co-owner of Kinloch Lodge, Glover said if Queenstown was to start over again, “you wouldn’t start with tourism”.

“The environmental impacts are very significant, the rates of pay, the productivity, the amount of money that ends up in local people’s pockets, is really appalling.”

He said a strategy was needed to shift the economy away from its reliance on tourism.

Lining up: Council and mayoral candidates wait for their turn to share their views on the environment

Fellow candidate AJ Mason also highlighted the need to transition to a “higher-value, lower-impact economy”.

As for public transport, Boult revealed he’d like to see the district’s public bus system, currently run by the Otago Regional Council, taken over by the district council.

Not in attendance were mayoral candidate Al Angus, Wakatipu ward candidate John MacDonald, and sole Arrowtown candidate Heath Copland.

The election takes place on October 12.