Pressure goes on councillors to deliver


INSIDE STORY: A new council has been charged with solving Queenstown’s major headaches. David Williams previews a challenging three years ahead

Be careful what you wish for, right?

A mix of old and new faces will sit around the Queenstown Lakes council table later this month, faced with a daunting task. Or, more rightly, several daunting tasks.

Skyrocketing house prices and rents are fragmenting the community, while bottlenecked roads and pricey and infrequent public transport lead to frustrating traffic snarl-ups.

The proliferation of houses into what used to be farm paddocks might have been the town’s leading environmental issue, if it weren’t for lake snot and algae problems.

The picture is complex because to solve many issues will require input from other councils, government agencies and central government politicians. Yet it’s the councillors who will be judged.

Almost a year ago, former council boss Adam Feeley warned that his successor faced trench warfare to get anything done.

New Queenstown-Wakatipu ward councillors Tony Hill, John MacDonald, Penny Clark and Val Miller might be forgiven for thinking that message also refers to them.

Radio man Craig ‘Ferg’ Ferguson, one of two sitting Queenstown councillors to be re-elected, says: “I welcome the new councillors to the duck pond. This will be a council under huge pressure to deliver.”

The other returning councillor, sustainability lecturer and former journo Alexa Forbes, has no doubt herself been been frustrated, given she fronted a transport strategy announcement in February last year at which the Otago Regional Council admitted it had earmarked no funding.

Ties with the regional council, government highways manager New Zealand Transport Agency and central government will be crucial this term, Forbes says.

Her upbeat assessment of the council is: “Everyone knows the community really well, they know the issues really well, so hopefully we’ll make some good progress.”

During the campaign, Forbes and Ferg talked up progress made on several fronts in the previous term.

But last Friday – the day before the election results – the council had a last embarrassing defeat. Its flagship transport policy, a park-and-ride trial, had to be dropped because of “significant compliance issues”.

The announcement was made at 4pm via a press release. Outgoing mayor Vanessa van Uden didn’t return calls from sister paper Otago Daily Times.

Attempts to push Queenstowners out of their cars, by cutting central town carparks and taking out sections of its Boundary Road carpark to accommodate campervans, are not paired with big alternatives.

This council might just be starting its term with the handbrake on.

MacDonald, a former Destination Queenstown chairman, says the election campaign showed a lot of frustration and even anger at the town’s growing pains.

“I think the mood is to sort it out.

“But I don’t think there’s a two-minute fix – you’ve got to get that planning right.”

Top-rating candidate Hill, a former executive secretary of the Lakes District Air Rescue Trust, adds: “We just need to get some rungs on the ladder pretty quickly.”

Ex-hotelier Clark chimes in: “We need a new focus and we’ve got to try and get some action.”

This council has a big job on its hands not just to get things done, but in repairing its relationship with the public.

The ham-fisted Fergburger footpath debacle, which cost ratepayers almost $100,000, and huge sums spent on what appears to be a dead ratepayer-funded convention centre have dented public confidence.

In the council’s latest annual residents’ survey, quietly loaded on its website late last month, nearly one-in-five people were dissatisfied with elected councillors.

The new faces, in particular, will have to come up to speed with the Local Government Act, meeting standing orders and the slow wheels of bureaucracy.

New mayor Jim Boult, a motorsport enthusiast, seems to want to swerve around it if he can.

“Maybe it’s easy for me to say coming into this, because I’m new, but I don’t intend to get bogged in bureaucratic process.

“Council’s got some good people working in there and I sometimes feel like they’re constrained – I’d like to take those constraints off.”

study of his Lake Hayes house to describe one attribute he’s known for: “Causing people to get motivated and get things done.”

He adds: “A whole lot of those issues that we’ve been facing as a community, like traffic and transport, let’s just get stuck into it and see what we can do.”

Boult’s links to central government, trumpeted during the election campaign, should be a huge help. They will need to be.

With a national election next year, this council will have to work fast to get traction before the government goes into campaign mode.

Postscript: On Friday, the council announced it had let the tender for construction of the eastern access road.