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'Nowhere to go': Queenstown Earthworks owner Craig Harpur

By PHILIP CHANDLER

A ‘‘shellshocked’’ Queenstown contractor’s accusing the airport corporation of  ‘‘extortion’’ for proposing a 750% rent increase.

Queenstown Earthworks owner Craig Harpur currently pays Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) $20,000 a year, plus GST, to rent a yard off Hawthorne Drive.

But QAC’s now proposing he stump up almost $170,000 a year, plus GST, for a ‘bare ground licence’.

‘‘If that’s not extortion, I don’t know what is,’’ Harpur says.

‘‘They’re just screwing us.’’

He says he can’t afford the increase ‘‘in Covid times’’, and would be forced to quit his space.

Even if the proposed hike — due to take effect from tomorrow — was half that much, it’d be ‘‘absolutely ridiculous’’.

QAC, however, says it’s bench marking lease rates ‘‘to ensure they are competitive and reflective of the market’’.

‘‘We have only recently initiated the discussion with the tenant, and will be more than
happy to consider any feedback,’’ finance and commercial GM Andrew Williamson says.

They’re also ensuring ‘‘all tenants pay for space they occupy’’.

QAC should promote business, not suppress it

Harpur accepts his rent’s ‘‘cheap’’, but stresses it’s just for bare land.

‘‘It comes with absolutely no thing, in fact you [rent] a mess, you’ve got to go out  there with a digger and clean it up.’’

Harpur says at his own cost he’s put on power and water, gravelled the yard and fenced it.

He could perhaps wear ‘‘a small increase’’, but believes QAC should be promoting  business at the moment, ‘‘rather than suppressing it’’.

‘‘Even if they left us alone and continued the rent the same — we’re not asking for relief.’’

Airport tenant:  ‘We’re all on the street’

Harpur says he sub-leases some of his 2610 square metre space to A1 Asphalt and AAA Concrete Pumping Services, as permitted under his licence, but claims he pays more than his share.

Though the proposed increase would force him out, ‘‘we have nowhere to go, there’s  not one option’’.

‘‘It’s actually devastating stuff, what to do.’’

Already he’s putting containers up for sale on Trade Me.

‘‘We’re literally on the street because we can’t afford $170,000 a year just to park trucks and stuff.

‘‘We’ve got no choice, unless they come to the party — and they are saying they’re  going to negotiate.’’

Harpur says ‘‘people always accuse [contractors] of being greedy, ‘the contractor  charges too much’, ‘they’re doing too well’, and all that sort of stuff’’.

But, in this case, he says his landlord would be to blame.

‘‘Realistically, what would it matter if the airport, a multi-billion dollar industry [majority-owned by Queenstown’s council], actually told us we could have that yard for nothing until things got back to normal times, would it actually make any difference at all?’’

Despite Harpur’s concerns, however, QAC boss Glen Sowry was recently reported saying they’d provided tenants with more than $10.5 million in rent relief since the pandemic began.

scoop@scene.co.nz