By TRACEY ROXBURGH
Otago Regional Council’s asked the government to stump up for Queenstown’s share of its public transport business case.
ORC recently endorsed the business case in principle, to guide about $200 million worth of
investment decisions — the cost of which is about $1.5m.
While that amount was to have been split between NZ Transport Agency and resort ratepayers, at a meeting in Dunedin last month councillor Hilary Calvert moved to ask instead for government to pick up the tab for Queenstown.
Calvert told fellow councillors Queenstown’s ‘‘one of the hardest hit areas in New Zealand’’ by Covid, and Tourism Minister Stuart Nash ‘‘has cautioned suggestions of a tourism recovery any time soon’’.
‘‘In short, Queenstown has taken the hit on behalf of all of us.’’
Coupled with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declaring a climate emergency, Calvert said it
‘‘would be appropriate’’ for the government to pick up the Whakatipu’s tab for the business case, totalling $735,000.
A letter sent to Environment Minister David Parker and Transport Minister Michael Wood at
the beginning of the month, signed by ORC chair Andrew Noone, said the financial imposition on Whakatipu Basin residents ‘‘is untenable, given the economic impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the area’’.
‘‘To place the $0.735m in context, for the current financial year, ORC will collect $0.99m from Whakatipu Basin ratepayers towards meeting the costs of delivering to them a public transport system.
‘‘As the [business case] will run across two years, the additional rates required per year is $0.368m — a 37% increase in the targeted rate.
‘‘That 37% increase will not deliver extra bus services in the short-term.’’
Should Queenstown not be invested in now for the future, the transport business case concludes a loss to the local economy of between $670m and $1.2 billion over 40 years.
‘‘That is because there is a transport problem and the scale of the problem is significant.
‘‘For example, parts of the network are already at capacity.
‘‘State Highway 6A practical capacity was exceeded on 140 days in 2019.
‘‘Without remedy, the level of service will further decline.’’
Noone’s letter says should the funding be forthcoming, the urgent work toward reduced carbon from increased public transport use could happen earlier, and it would show ‘‘compassion from the government for Queenstown’’.
It’d also allow ‘‘some breathing space’’ for resort residents to recover while the detailed business case is completed, ‘‘without requesting they put their hands in their increasingly bare pockets to fund this in the next two years’’.
The letter says if the government takes responsibility for the business case, there might be a better outcome for all.
Wood says he’s ‘‘considering the letter’’ and will respond ‘‘in due course’’.
Parker didn’t respond to a request for comment.