If somebody offered to pay you four times the market value of your home, and at the same time promised you an equivalent house just down the road that you could use forever, what would you do?
With the average Queenstown house hitting $1.8 million, that would give you a cool $7.2m in the bank, and an equivalent free home for your lifetime and that of your mokopuna — the dazzling prospect of financial independence in paradise.
It sounds unlikely, but would you be interested to learn more?
Perhaps you’d investigate their credibility, sincerity, and reasons.
Maybe you’d discuss it with your family and find out what you could do to facilitate the transaction.
As unlikely as this scenario seems, it is precisely what has been put on the table for the Queenstown Lakes district community by the current airport debate.
The council-owned Queenstown Airport has an enterprise value of $535-$550m.
But its predominantly rural-zoned 153 hectares could sell for a market value of $2 billion if rezoned high-density mixed-use, and Christchurch Airport is offering to build a replacement that would ensure our community’s ongoing connectivity.
Electric buses, the Wisk aero taxis, and Whoosh gondola could provide emissions-free transport between the Whakatipu and the proposed airport, satisfying the needs for volume, speed, and splendour, while increasing transport resilience through the Kawarau Gorge.
And our district could do with a break.
The council seeks an average 13.6% rates increase.
It’s hiking user fees and deferring $107m in capital projects as it squeezes against its debt limits.
Like us all, it’s battered by high inflation and increasing interest rates.
On top of this, it’s got leaky homes settlements costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
What would you do? John Hilhorst
Do you think the mayor or council could see the $2b goldmine potential of relocating scheduled air services to Tarras, keeping just general aviation in the Wakatipu?
Could they see their own spatial plan’s wisdom of centralising the Whakatipu’s urban development onto sunny Frankton Flats?
How this could resolve the district’s transport and housing crises?
How the prospect of a high-density, high-quality, live-work campus could accelerate economic transition to high-value knowledge enterprises?
How central urbanisation and economic transition are the region’s most powerful climate mitigation strategies?
That these arguments are not widely understood results from the enforced absence of analysis and discussion across all council’s strategic and masterplans over the past four years.
Instead of being curious or inquiring, QLDC has obstinately pulled down the shutters, refused to investigate, and tasked Queenstown Airport (QAC) to actively resist the Christchurch airport proposal to ‘‘protect the value and operational priority of Queenstown Airport’’.
Emboldened, the council-owned airport has begun master-planning a $200-$300m debt-fuelled expansion.
Making it more impossible than ever to grow a liveable town on Frankton Flats, or for our community to benefit from the billions of dollars that re-purposing the airport land could release.
It could take the cash, or alternatively, re-direct QAC to become the country’s largest property company, with our community retaining ownership and income from its developing CBD.
How extraordinarily out of step is council?
It is doubling down on expanding an airport on what should be the Whakatipu’s urban heartland, and thereby shut ting access to a goldmine.
And it does this at the very time that our district’s tourism sector courageously adopts a zero-carbon-by-2030 vision, including reducing the emissions of visitor flights.
That plan’s incompatible with growing international visitor numbers.
We could win Lotto, or we could entrench and magnify every difficulty the district faces.
What would you do if you were the mayor or councillors?
Would you shut down debate, or be curious to know more?
John Hilhorst’s a long-time Queenstowner and spokesman for FlightPlan2050, which advocates for the continued urban growth in the Whakatipu to be focused on Frankton Flats, and the airport relocated