Progress vs protection

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English cricketers and sports journalists all went a bit mental over the view from the Queenstown Events Centre pitch recently. 

Like most visitors to this little resort, they all eschewed any notion of maintaining a respectable cool British detachment in favour of losing their shit like a schoolgirl at a Justin Bieber concert. 

Batsman Kevin Pietersen gushingly described a Queens­town helicopter trip as “one of the best afternoons of my life” – and this from a man who spends many of his afternoons representing his country (well, sort of) at an international level. 

It is nice scenery out there. You can go for a run on one of the treadmills in the Events Centre gym and enjoy a relatively unobstructed view towards the Crown Range. 

But unfortunately this will be gone within a few years. 

The council has earmarked the land beyond the oval for a zone change, from rural to industrial and retail, as Queenstown continues its expansion. 

So we will see either a Countdown or Pak ‘n’ Save or Mitre 10 Mega, or all three, or industrial units there – depends who has the best lawyers. One thing is almost certain: they will be housed in the same drab practical warehouses you find the world over. 

Thing is, while everyone is working out how Queenstown can expand, there seems to be no debate about whether it should at all. 

Take the proposed $50 million conference centre slated next to Lakeview Holiday Park. 

Council boss Adam Feeley told Mountain Scene that without it the economy would grow by $400m and we’d get an additional 2900 jobs. 

With it as a “major catalyst for development in and around the CBD” the economy would grow $1.5 billion and there’d be 10,500 jobs created. 

Any conference centre appears likely to come with a new casino, a hotel complex and associated retail and leisure precincts. 

Queenstown Airport Corporation will be pleased. It has the same goal – hell-bent on growth. NZSki too, which spent last season feverishly creating snow to underpin the season. It’s the mandate of any business, grow, grow, and grow. 

Transforming into what, and why though? A 66 per cent growth in the number of jobs, providing services and accommodation for God knows how many more tourists. It’s massive. 

It is not about whether it is sustainable development, even though any such growth would presumably require massive investment in infrastructure including at some point the long-suggested CBD bypass, and it goes without saying a new Kawarau Falls bridge. 

It’s about whether it’s wanted by Queenstowners at all, who will also pick up some of the bill for that infrastructure. 

Many locals are already mourning the loss of the Queenstown they knew from a few decades back, where you knew everyone in the town and could generally park outside the shop you were shopping in. 

And just over a year ago, Frankton residents on Robertson Street were up in arms in Mountain Scene after planning commissioners approved consent for a large car showroom, replacing their views of Crown Range and Coronet Peak with a view of a 6m wall. It has now been built. 

Will more expansion, more residents, tourists and satellite communities, more out-of-town shopping precincts, roads and traffic change the very nature of what everyone loves about Queenstown? 

Sure, you want a vibrant, successful town but no one wants unchecked urban sprawl. 

Queenstown Lakes District Council, on the back of disestablishing Lakes Environmental, says it wants a streamlined resource consents and district plan change process. It’s incredibly complex and bureaucratic as it is, so change is necessary, but they must ensure they don’t give developers carte blanche. 

Of course you could argue that if people had stood in the way of change, Queenstown wouldn’t be what it is now. 

There was presumably debate about where to put the airport, which sits right in front of the Remarkables and could be accused of also ruining the visual amenity. You could argue this all the way back to boatman John Williams building his cottage on the edge of the lake in Queenstown Bay in 1864. 

Although it is perhaps not the best example, retained for its historic more than architectural merit, at least it’s still here – along with many grand stone buildings from the goldrush era, built by the rich as their legacy, with a dash of civic pride. 

What will be the legacy of this era – where profit is the main motivator for development and attracting as many tourists and people as possible? 

Thing is, Queenstown now is the commodity that draws people here. It’s not the gold in the hills, it’s the hills themselves. 

Maybe the Shaping Our Future initiative will spark some much-needed debate about the town’s destiny.