Parting Shot: Stalled on the highway to nowhere


Queenstown’s council is issuing an urgent plea. It says this district’s the fastest-growing in the country and it faces horrendous transport and parking issues.

“Parking has consistently been flagged by our community as a key priority for the last five years,” its official transport plan says.

“The consequences of doing nothing would result in a transportation gridlock and a dysfunctional community.”

Was this report released this week? This year? This decade? Sadly, no. That was the foreword to 2005’s ‘Future Link’ transport plan.

It could be argued that picking through this 11-year-old plan, as I did this week, is futile – that it can only induce an hour of fruitless face-palming. But it’s important for two reasons.

The first is it contains a lot of projects we’re still talking about: Frankton’s eastern access road; park-and-ride facilities; increased parking charges; and a Melbourne-Henry link road, eventually taking traffic up Man Street.

There’s also mention of a potential toll between Frankton and the CBD, an alternative route through Quail Rise to Arthurs Point and a bridge or tunnel from Kelvin Peninsula to the Queenstown CBD.

My point here is there’s already a plethora of good ideas and there have been years of discussions and committees.

We don’t need more talk-fests.

The second reason ‘Future Link’ is important is the upcoming elections.

Incumbent councillors who are standing again – Simon Stamers-Smith (a two-termer), Craig ‘Ferg’ Ferguson, Alexa Forbes and Merv Aoake – have some explaining to do.

If they’re waxing lyrical at upcoming meetings about the council’s future direction then they should also explain their track record (more on that in a minute).

Two mayoral candidates are council long-termers, having first been elected in 2004 – they’re our Wanaka-based deputy mayor (Vote Lyal Cocks, 83 Facebook friends) and former finance committee chairman John Mann, who sat out this term (@JohnMann4Mayor, 308 likes).

Gentlemen, why the inaction since 2005?

(@boultformayor is winning the Facebook war with 411 likes, with @RogeForMayor on 332 and Al Angus For Mayor 144.)

Now perhaps the 2005 transport plan was too ambitious. I’ve added up a $132 million budget over 16 years – with $129m scheduled to be spent before 2016.

That was probably too hard to push through when post-GFC voters demanded economic prudence and value for money.

Queenstown’s council responded with three straight years of zero rates increases.

In 2013, the council made a surplus of $11.4m, followed by $20.1m in 2014 and then a whopping $30.3m surplus last year.

But big projects were delayed or deferred.

The council’s 2013 annual report said capital expenditure was below estimated spending by $16.1m. In 2014 the ‘miss’ was $9.6m and last year capital expenditure was down by $26.8m - a total of $52.5m over three years.

I hear chickens coming home to roost.

With visitor numbers exploding by unexpectedly large amounts there could not have been a worse time to under-spend.

Council decisions have made Queenstown’s traffic problems worse.

For years it has been approving subdivisions beyond Frankton – Lake Hayes Estate, Shotover Country and Jack’s Point, for example, with Bridesdale Farm and Hanley’s Farm to come.

Infrequent and expensive public transport forces our far-flung residents to commute from these suburbs.

So why is the council now punishing them?

Its latest moves to charge for parking up to 9pm and take away CBD carparks for campervans, without arranging alternatives, make commuters feel like lepers in their own town.

Yay for the park-and-ride trial but where are the cheaper and more frequent buses?

Despite years of discussions, transport planning right now feels hurried, hodge-podge and done on the cheap.

The foreword to ‘Future Links’ says: “What is required is a holistic approach, district-wide, to both the issues of parking and transportation.”

Nothing has changed. This new batch of councillors needs to get cracking and use historic low interest rates to get the town out of gridlock and back on track.