Issue #946

LWB Issue 946

Project Manawa wrangle

by Cath Gilmour

Queenstown Lakes District councillors succeeded in slowing down the Project Manawa juggernaut on Thursday but chose not to overturn it.

The project to create a “beating community heart” in downtown Queenstown had morphed from cultural and community facilities into a council office for 600 staff. Allegedly requiring the sale of much of the dual block Stanley Street reserves and a vaguely defined JV with Ngāi Tahu Properties that meant we’d lose control over the build and have to pay NTP rent for ever.

After receiving 288 pages of submissions and hearing 27 submitters – nearly all in opposition – hearing panel councillors Cox, White and Ferguson recommended halting the build to first investigate other sites.

But somewhere en route to council’s agenda, their investigation’s scope was seriously reduced. Panel chair Lyal Cox, taking part by zoom from his car, acknowledged there had been various iterations from staff since the panel’s original report. The resultant recommendation was for a very limited update of information on the Stanley Street site, to compare “with similar information for an alternate site.” Councillors instead unanimously voted for Cr Gavin Bartlett’s amendment, reverting to the panel’s original, broader investigation – of different sites.

Three council-owned Frankton Flats sites raised by submitters – none of which had been identified by Project Manawa’s staff team – would be cheaper, more central and without JV or freeholding complications. Persistent questioning by Cr Bartlett finally saw council CEO Mike Theelen admit that neither JV nor community reserve sell-offs were a project prerequisite, as already pointed out by several submitters.

Crs Niki Gladding and Esther Whitehead called for greater detail on land swap costs, JV terms, and implications before committing to either, saying it would be irresponsible to commit future councils to proposals and costs they knew little about. Other Councillors didn’t agree. Mayor Glyn Lewers used his casting vote to push through the huge land exchange proposal that would freehold about half the reserve, allowing 14m high commercial buildings enveloping stairs, retail alleys and one small “plaza” – the total public open space proposed. Crs Bartlett, Gladding, Smith, Tucker, Whitehead and Wong voted against.

Councillors put a temporary hold on the JV partnership with NTP, but left it as a future possibility, subject to Theelen’s review.

There is no money in draft council budgets for the office building for at least seven years. None at all for community facilities. And no guarantee money made from flogging the reserves will be used for these purposes. Cr Cody Tucker summarised many submitters’ views, saying Project Manawa was overly managed towards a predetermined conclusion, nullifying the point of consultation, and aggravating community mistrust with another open-ended, Queenstown-centric JV.

Our councillors have pushed to ensure proper analysis of alternative sites. Now let’s see that council staff do so


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