Prize we didn’t want to win

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Best hotel – OK. Top pinot – bingo. Hot tourism destination – good one. But “New Zealand’s Most Affluent Place”?

You could feel the grimaces when Queenstown was awarded its latest accolade earlier this month. An ASB Bank-commissioned survey gave us the kiss of death in a burst of national publicity labelling the resort “NZ’s most affluent place to live”.

We “won” by a nose from North Shore City. Lucky us.

Try telling trustees of local schools this is positive. They spend half their lives unsuccessfully trying to convince deaf Ministry of Education wallies why it’s a falsehood to rate our schools Decile 10 – richest ranking, least funding.

This Most Affluent award will merely confirm Wellington’s wonky worldview.

Try telling local employers that Most Affluent Place will help recruit workers from outside. The label sounds high-rent in any language.

And look at our new tag through the eyes of mingy Southland District Health Board members from in-bred Invercargill. “Give more health dollars to Queenstown? Those rich bastards up there – Most Affluent Place in NZ? Stuff that, they can pay for their own healthcare.”

This ASB survey pretty well seals our fate for getting money out of SDHB for more elderly-care beds. Get your wallets out, Queenstown – thanks a bunch, Goldstein.

Funding public services aside, our new flag is also the last thing we need to wave at fellow country folk thinking of holidaying here.

Queenstown already has a bit of a rep for being up itself and we’ve all heard grizzles how the resort is becoming out of reach for the average Kiwi. Now, just when we need them most, fellow Kiwis may run a mile from NZ’s Most Affluent Place as we head into a grim 2009.

Explaining his so-called methodology, survey author – surely “researcher”? – Stephen Hart of Barbican Publishing says: “We thought analysing house prices was a good place to start.”

It’s not only where Hart started, it’s pretty well where he finished, too. “These well-heeled [Queenstown] residents will continue to push property prices to levels rivalling – and often exceeding – those of Auckland and Sydney.”

OK, he threw in some official-looking stats like household incomes, percentage of residents with degrees and unemployment rates, but this is first and foremost a property-price survey.

Yet Hart bills his study as more than that – he searched, he says, for the place whose “residents are most comfortable”.

His property-based analysis is flawed.

How many flash homes can you think of in the Wakatipu owned by richies from NZ and overseas who spend only a limited time here? How many high fliers live here but work elsewhere? How many residents would you categorise as the rich-retired?

All these high-priced homes ratchet up property-price stats and they similarly skew household income tables if owners are in residence on Census night – one Michael Hill probably equals 500 hotel workers on $15 an hour.

How comfortable and affluent are they?

Hart also didn’t highlight some of the other stats he’s buried deep in his report – they tell a truer story than just pure property prices.

Only 37 per cent of Queenstown couples have kids – versus the national average of 42 per cent.

Conversely, 55 per cent of Queenstown couples don’t have kids – compared with 40 per cent of all Kiwi couples who are childless.

If having kids breaks the bank, our childless couples count could explain our so-called affluence.

But here’s the killer. Just 55 per cent of Queenstowners own their own homes – against 63 per cent for New Zealand as a whole.

Hart didn’t report on that. Perhaps because it could just as easily be argued that the 45 per cent of Queenstowners who don’t own their own homes are actually less affluent than the national average.

All this so-called survey shows is that sponsor ASB Bank and other home lenders sell far fewer mortgages – but of far higher value – in Queenstown than anywhere else in the country.

Most Affluent Place in NZ? Get outta here, Goldstein.