Plan now or pay later

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Queenstown Hill airport proponent Sir Eion Edgar made an obvious but telling comment while talking about his novel idea last week. 

Edgar told me: “We need to take a 20- to 30-year view.” 

Since coming to live here in 1985, I’ve often felt over the years that our town regularly succumbs to short-termism. 

Some of our planning decisions and many roading decisions, for example, smack of short-sightedness, with the wisdom of the decision-makers – or lack of it – frequently exposed as Queens­town continues to grow like Topsy.

Surely now, when we hear official statistics consistently forecasting startling growth in both resident and visitor numbers, we need to focus on the far horizons. 

Up to now it’s been all too easy for our civic fathers and mothers to put long-term planning into the too-hard basket. 

Yet this New Year’s Day should have provided a loud wake-up call to mayor Vanessa van Uden and her councillors, not to mention the many Government bureaucrats pulling our strings. 

January 1 was the day Queens­town traffic well-and-truly ground to a halt – not just where you might expect it, at the antiquated Kawarau Falls bridge, but also on Fernhill Road of all places. 

Our New Year’s Day gridlock was a stark portent that if we don’t get a better-flowing roading network, this resort will suffer many more snarl-ups in the future. 

Our council’s pressing the Government’s New Zealand Transport Agency for urgency on a new Kawarau Falls bridge – great, but what about the rest of our roading? 

Progress has stalled on a Melbourne-Man Street CBD bypass. 

But is such a bypass really a 20- to 30-year vision? How about a four-lane highway to Frankton above Goldfields? Or a two-lane one-way highway up there with the existing Frankton Road becoming a one-way route in the other direction? 

The Melbourne-Man St bypass sounds good but will it really cut it for a quarter-century of rampant resort growth? 

Why not a light rail corridor from Frankton to Queenstown? And maybe ban traffic from our narrow CBD streets as other world-class resorts often do? 

Or at least implement traffic disincentives – like London’s congestion charges – to deter driving downtown. 

Nope, I won’t give up my day job to become an urban planner but you can get what I’m, er, driving at. 

The irony is, many of these transport initiatives – like Edgar’s big-jet airport on Queenstown Hill – were first canvassed 25 years ago or more. 

Where’s the bold forward planning for 25 years from now? 

I’ll watch with interest what comes out of the council’s Shaping Our Future exercise – will it be just more hot air or will there be some big, bright, bold, ballsy ideas we can run with? 

And let’s also hope for some 20-20 vision from the hapless grey-faced state bureaucrats who stifle our future by persistently pulling at their official purse strings. 

The Ministry of Education – which should at least be able to count – drastically underestimated our growth by building a pint-sized school at Frankton which less than two years later has to turn kids away. 

As we enter 2013, ideas such as a Queenstown Hill airport might sound pie-in-the-sky, but if we don’t plan soon for a future growth explosion of doubled tourist and resident numbers, we face the danger of being written off the world tourism map as just another ruined resort. 

And that’s a future shock that doesn’t bear thinking about.