Parting Shot: Convention centre madness must end now


It’s ironic the local community housing trust is calling Queenstown’s housing situation a “crisis”.

It was set up in 2007 to avoid just that.

That’s not to blame the hard-working body – it has to survive on grants and the will of the Queenstown’s council.

Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust boss Julie Scott is just confirming what everyone knows.

Scott used the word “crisis” last week to describe the plight of renters polled in a housing survey.

It’s a shame. In 2007, when the trust was established, the council seemed to be saying all the right things.

It identified council-owned land suitable for affordable housing units and notified a community housing plan change.

Its track record was good. The first voluntary affordable housing agreement with a developer dates back to Jack’s Point in 2003. Over the next eight years there were eight more agreements volunteered.

The 2007 plan change was appealed and it headed to court. Four years later, the council won an important Hight Court decision.

At the time, council policy wonk Scott Figenshow described the plan change’s aim: “For the council and the community it’s a way to ensure that a portion of the new housing supply meets the needs of the local workforce.”

The council had an important tool. Then it got distracted.

Maybe it was shocked at Canterbury’s killer earthquake or got carried away partying when we won the Rugby World Cup?

No, more likely the diversion started when it formed a working committee to consider a council-backed convention centre for Queenstown.

Mayor Vanessa van Uden was front and centre.

In September 2011, she said: “A conference centre has the potential to become a valuable driver of the Queenstown economy, helping to flatten out the peaks and troughs of seasonal tourism demand.”

(In July 2012, Horwath HTL reckoned the capital cost for a 750-odd delegate centre was $43.7 million. The latest annual plan budgets $61.8m, although it’s unclear if that includes associated infrastructure.)

My thesis is a bit of a guess. I was in Christchurch when Queenstown embarked on its grand economic dream.

But since arriving here in mid-2014 I’ve seen plenty of evidence this council, and its related entities, have lost their civic heart.

The council’s economic-driven priorities are misguided – and even when they’re right it makes a hash of it.

At Lakeview, it snatched back cabins leased at affordable rates to pursue its convention centre dream. It’s now collecting rent while it hands the cap around in the hope someone else will pay for its beloved centre.

The Wakatipu Aero Club, founded 46 years ago, was turfed out of its club buildings at Queenstown and what’s in its place? Two weekends ago it was a carpark for Jucy rentals.

In the most obvious indication it has lost the plot, the council let Bridesdale Farm sail through as a special housing area without demanding an affordable housing component.

Smaller homes mean smaller prices, the developer told the council. The marketing bumph said prices would start at $450,000 for a three-bedroom house.

The council’s official report into Bridesdale before a commissioners’ hearing noted: “Does not provide affordable housing.”

But it went on to call 117 lots in the subdivision “affordable residential units”. Piffle.

As we’ve reported, an off-the-plan house contract is on the market for $755,000.

Bridesdale is a huge blot on the council’s patchy record.

Sure, it’s changing density rules to allow more infill housing. But it might be so unpopular it’ll be reversed, eventually.

The council has worshipped the government’s special housing areas – but high priest Nick Smith is now shirty it isn’t making enough converts.

While the council was fiddling with its model of Lakeview, counting the make-believe delegates in its fantasy convention centre, real people watched as their rents and house prices burned upwards.

Queenstown’s housing is a mess and a convention centre won’t help.

All sitting or prospective councillors who want a centre should raise their hand – and see if they get elected in October.