Queenstown council hopefuls: Whitehead versus Wilson


Voting papers are out for June 11’s by-election to fill the vacant seat on Queenstown’s council. We’ve asked candidates Phil Wilson and Esther Whitehead some key questions to help you make your decision. Emily Rutherford’s name will also appear on voting papers; despite pulling out of the race last month, she was unable to formally withdraw her candidacy because of election rules.

The questions:

  1. What is your vision for the future of Queenstown Airport?
  2. What should the council do to encourage economic diversification in the district?
  3. What role should the council play in promoting sustainable tourism?
  4. What are your top three priorities for the district?


Esther Whitehead

  1. I back the community’s position of not extending the noise boundaries, and I sympathise with the Wanaka community Stakeholders’ Group. The nature of the MartinJenkins report resulted in a lack of trust in the council and its processes. I remain open to a number of possibilities we have on offer, and will advocate for the council to explore these before committing to any one.
  2. Shift from primarily promoting our identity as a tourist resort. The council first needs to assess the risks to our declining key industries, provide data, acknowledge it won’t be a shift back to business as usual, and then enable social institutions such as education provision and health services, which protect our community from the potential negative effects of economic and environmental catastrophes.
  3. It would need limited adverse environmental impact and the ability to support workers livelihoods, not just low-paid jobs. The council must invest in its climate response team. One of the main issues in the 10-Year Plan is the lack of carbon accounting as a balanced part of all reporting across all work streams. The council should focus on promoting sustainable business rather than sustainable tourism.
  4. No.1: Open the doors for greater participatory democracy and support diverse candidates coming forward for next years election, when I predict well see several councillors and our mayor stand down. No.2: Invest in its climate response team and prioritise carbon accounting and reporting across all workstreams. No.3: Advocate for better ways to engage with local governance, e.g. shift from a postal-only vote to an electronic vote to encourage a bigger turnout.


Phil Wilson

  1. Queenstown Airport is a vital component of the infrastructure of the district. Not only does it serve as a gateway for one-third of our visitors, its proximity to town provides residents with a very convenient entrance and exit. The airport should not be relocated. Airport noise needs to be managed within the current air noise boundaries. The council must have direct input into airport decisions, and should have a representative on the board.
  2. One thing we must learn from the pandemic is that over-reliance on tourism is not healthy. Diversification needs to be high on our agenda. We are perfectly located to promote film production, digital innovation and education to name a few. Our district is a very desirable place to live and work. The pandemic has given many businesses an insight into the ability of people to work remotely.
  3. In order to retain our reputation as a world-class resort, we must ensure the visitor experience remains world class. Pressure from “over-tourism” can detract from the experience we want our visitors to have. We are perfectly placed to re-set our thinking on tourism growth. I believe our focus needs to be directed towards destination management more than it has been in the past.
  4. No.1 must be economic recovery! We need to get visitors back to town to get our economy going again. No.2 is transport; traffic congestion and lack of parking are the two most-cited problems we must fix. Encouraging us to walk, bike and bus more is not proving to be the silver bullet solution. No.3 is health; the District Health Board has not provided the district with the level of healthcare services we deserve. We must ensure the new health regime provides us with better services.