Ministry’s secret search for new Queenstown school sites

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The Ministry of Education has been secretly eyeing at least eight blocks of land for the Wakatipu’s next school – but some property owners are in the dark. 

Mountain Scene can reveal the MoE has been investigating sites from Arthurs Point to Jack’s Point for the past three years in the painstakingly slow process of expanding education facilities to keep pace with Queenstown’s rapid growth. 

Target sites have never before been made public – the MoE has previously been tight-lipped or non-committal over where new primary and secondary schools may go. 

The site revelations follow last week’s MoE announcement of the resort’s newest school, Remarkables Primary, shrinking its zoning area because of imminent overcrowding. 

The 2008 site selection report requested under the Official Information Act took almost two years for Mountain Scene to obtain, despite the Ombudsman’s intervention. 

It reveals:

  • The MoE’s No.1 choice for a new primary is a Stalker Road site at Ladies Mile within the Shotover Country plan-change zone 
  • A Five Mile site on Frankton Flats is preferred for a new high school 
  • A southern block within Remarkables Park targeted as a possible high school site has been scrapped because the MoE says “the developer sees high potential for commercial development [and] is not enthusiastic about using the site for a secondary school” 
  • The MoE is considering buying up six properties on Sawmill Rd next to Wakatipu High for possible expansion 
  • Yet according to the report, only four landowners among these eight site options have been approached. 

Official documents also reveal the MoE wrote to a Dunedin iwi consultancy in 2008 about the sites, urging confidentiality: “Under no circumstances release any of it to third parties. Obviously landowners are not to be approached under any circumstances.” 

Queenstown lawyer Warwick Goldsmith, acting for Shotover Country landowners, says the MoE has kept in regular contact but “they haven’t given us an indication that it’s their preferred site”. 

A decision on Shotover Country’s plan change – to turn farmland into a mostly residential zone with community facilities like a primary school – is expected within weeks. 

Remarkables Park and Arthurs Point land are bracketed in second place as primary school sites – but Arthurs Point landowner Chris Streat has never been approached. 

“It’s news to me,” Streat says, adding that much of his family trust’s land is already being developed in his Evening Star subdivision. 

“There’s eight hectares of land left so you could still fit a school in but there are other factors…land covenants and the views of neighbours would definitely affect any decision to build a school there.”
 
Landowners of Remarkables Park and Jack’s Point – two other possible primary sites – have indicated a willingness to sell certain areas inside their boundaries to the MoE.
 
On another primary-school option – the 4ha adjoining Ladies Mile Pet Lodge – “no discussions have taken place with the landowners and therefore their willingness to sell is unknown”, the MoE report says.
 
The official document singles out Five Mile as being the best site for a new Wakatipu High, followed by Remarkables Park – but both have noise problems from Queenstown Airport and SH6. 

Ranked third for Wakatipu High is the option of extending the existing school – once again, property owners haven’t been approached, the report says. 

An extension would only temporarily relieve Wakatipu High’s roll pressure – “further options for relocation may still be required in the future”. 

The fourth-ranked high school site – labelled the “Mee Block” – is on the south side of the Kawarau River. Again, the MoE hasn’t approached landowners. 

Mountain Scene asked the MoE whether any sites had been added to or eliminated from those listed in the report – but MoE officials were unable to provide a detailed answer by deadline. 

The report urges Wellington to secure future school sites for the Wakatipu. 

“It must be acknowledged that developing land for a school will mean competing for land tagged for residential development in one of the most sought-after areas in New Zealand.”