Niki Gladding: Why I’m standing for Queenstown

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As I’m writing, this council’s decision on Queenstown Airport Corporation’s (QAC) new draft Statement of Intent looms.

By now we know the outcome.

If they haven’t rejected the new draft with its unchanged ‘expand to meet demand’ objectives, my position is that the next council needs to take action to undo the decision.

With a massive expansion planned, our economic direction, our infrastructure needs, our response to climate change, and the health of our water and communities are all inextricably linked to, and will be dictated by, QAC’s strategic direction.

Those issues haven’t informed the discussion so far.

I don’t buy into the ‘we must grow to meet demand’ rhetoric; we influence both demand and growth through marketing and infrastructure capacity, and forecasts of demand are not independent of those things.

If tourism growth is unsustainable, and not delivering value through community well-being, we should do what we can to slow it and incentivise alternatives that can.

But if we want to take a different path towards a more resilient, lower-emissions economy, we need to take that opportunity now.

In terms of investment, we are at a tipping point; the Long-Term Plan looks to spend $990m for capital projects that enable growth – $610m more than the last LTP and much of that from debt.

Debt is currently $105m but by 2022/23 it is forecast to increase to $450m with repayments reliant on developer contributions.

That level of debt could lock us into a future we don’t want.

Some thoughts on local government: Local democracy is precious and needs looking after. Trust is key. Personally, I don’t trust a council that’s free of strong constructive debate – we elect different people to represent different views and those views should be expressed openly.

What our future looks like should be up to our communities and so we need a council who will listen and be fearless in advocating for us and our environment. And councillors’ loyalties should always lie with the public interest.

I’m an activist rather than a politician but I’m keen to take what I’ve learned over the last five years of study and advocacy and put it to use in a different role – around the table and out in the community.

Amongst other things I’d like to see action on food and water security, reducing emissions and sediment run-off, stormwater treatment and protecting our aquifers.