Contractor dispute and planning process threaten 585 new Queenstown homes

by Kim Bowden and Peter Newport - Aug 24, 2023

An ambitious development high above Queenstown’s Frankton Road is in limbo as the developer wades through an ever growing resource consent process that’s left early contractors unpaid.

Those behind the Silver Creek subdivision are seeking approval to turn the forested 33-hectare block of land above Frankton Road into 585 residential lots.

There are increasingly hefty and expensive regulatory hoops to jump through to get approval from the Queenstown Lakes District Council and the developers need cash to get it across the line.

The land is owned by Silver Creek Limited – a company split down the middle, shared by Queenstown developer Gavin Moore, who works with his son Josh, and David Wallace Bain, a former Waikato mayor and distinguished Rotorua coroner who made this year’s New Year Honours list. 

Representing Mr Bain onsite in Queenstown is Ross Speakman, the director of liquidated Coronet Peak Construction/Signature Homes Queenstown, which collapsed in 2019. Mr Speakman’s wife Adrienne and brother Craig are also sitting between the Moores and Mr Bain in an arrangement that seems at the core of an escalating dispute over funding.

David Wallace Bain is a former Waikato mayor and esteemed Rotorua coroner - 'a stickler for doing what's right' (Image: Photo/Pool/Alan Gibson).

Insults, threats and a difficult site

The issues of a steep, undeveloped site, zoned residential but with no existing three waters infrastructure, and access ultimately funnelling thousands of would-be residents off and on an already congested state highway are exacerbating the planning and financial headaches.

Some planning documents suggest the whole subdivision could be limited to only 49 homes if Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency does not first go ahead with planned intersection improvements to Frankton Road - improvements already at risk due to funding constraints.

Early work to clear trees and prepare the site began two years ago, and Crux has spoken to two earthworks contractors with unpaid invoices – one of whom says he is waiting on more than $200,000.

Mr Moore says the contractors will be paid, subject to the council’s green light on resource consent.

But, he’s not willing to put a timeframe on it.

“Every time I say a time, QLDC asks me for more information.”

He does know that he was advised the process of securing resource consent could take 18 months.

“We’re at two-and-a-half years.”

So far, there is an eyewatering amount of documentation.

Mr Moore says for every consultant’s report submitted, a peer review has been requested on top of it.

He estimates the resource consent application now sits at approximately 450 pages – and points out that less than ten years ago, the initial resource consent application to kickstart the 2,500-household Hanley’s Farm subdivision took fewer than 20 pages.

Even during the process of applying for his resource consent, Mr Moore says it feels like the council’s “goal posts are constantly changing”.

He is desperate for resource consent, because the money depends on it.

“Our funding revolves around issuing of a consent. We can’t get the funds until the consent’s issued.”

He says he has “no plan b’”, and he remains confident the resource consent will “pop out”.

“I’m pretty sure I’ve got this.”

Earthworks contractor Murray Erskine is fighting for business survival - he is owed more than $200,000 by Silver Creek.

In the meantime, the local contractors remain out of pocket.

Murray Erskine says he has been waiting a year for bills to be paid.

He owns Erskine Earthworks and bought $750,000 worth of new machinery with the promise of years of work ahead at the huge subdivision.

Instead, he says he is now owed more than $200,000.

He isn’t alone – Maxine and Bruce Murdoch, contracted last year to drill and split rocks at the site, say they are owed more than $71,000.

Crux is aware of at least one other contractor with unpaid invoices.

Mr Moore refuses to comment on how many there are, but did say, “I’ve only got two that are angry”.

He tells Crux he is committed to paying them, with interest. 

“The contractors will see their money.”

When contacted by Crux, Ross Speakman initially threatened to sue us and asked if we had legal insurance. He then went on to make contradictory claims about his relationship to the Silver Creak project saying he had no formal role and just knows “a lot about the project” because he is “friends and drinks with the people” before calling himself a “lender” and referenceing his family’s money.

Crux can find no record of a family connection between David Wallace Bain and the Speakmans, but there are multiple business connections detailed in the Companies Register, including others with Queenstown links.

Adrienne Speakman, the wife of Ross Speakman, with multiple business links to David Wallace Bain (Image/ICAN models, Queenstown). 

Mr Speakman’s wife Adrienne Speakman answers a mobile phone number linked to business interests of Mr Bain’s.

She has declined to answer questions or put Crux in touch with Mr Bain, saying he is “in the North Island” and questions related to Silver Creek should be directed to Mr Moore.

In a second phone call with Crux this week she says she is overseas and the Silver Creek contractors agreed to only being paid when the resource consent came through.

Mrs Speakman is listed as former co-owner alongside Mr Speakman in Coronet Peak Construction Limited/Signature Homes Queenstown. 

When it went into liquidation in 2019, its biggest debt – nearly $1.2 million - was to Palmer Road Properties, of which Mr Bain is now the sole director and shareholder.

However, Mr and Mrs Speakman were both former shareholders of Palmer Road Properties, as was RKWL Trustee Limited, a company owned solely by Craig Speakman, Ross Speakman’s brother  – Mr Bain took the company over from them.

The liquidators for Coronet Peak/Signature Homes Queenstown, BDO of Christchurch, have reported in June this year they are investigating a number of creditor payments considered as “potentially voidable”.

The liquidators also note in an earlier report they are considering action against the former directors of the company based on “the lack of company books and records in existence” that “has been prohibitive to furthering” their investigation into the affairs of the company.

When Crux contacted accountant Craig Speakman in an attempt to reach Mr Bain and better understand Ross Speakman’s relationship with Mr Bain and Silver Creek, Craig directed us back to Ross, saying Mr Bain is too unwell to comment.

Crux then asked to be put in touch with Mr Bain’s family representatives or legal team, a request that Craig Speakman agreed to but has not yet delivered on. Mr Bain has connections to almost 100 current and former companies, some of which have other Southern Lakes links.

Contractors driven out of business by unpaid invoices

Contractor Murray Erskine says he started work at the site in April 2021, and worked there until September 2022.

“It was good, steady work. I had five guys and we had machinery running all day long and I was making money.

Accountant Craig Speakman, the brother of Ross Speakman, with links to David Wallace Bain's various business interests: Mr Bain is 'too unwell' to speak with Crux (Image: LinkedIn).

“They came to me in August (2022) - just before the 20th of August - and asked for a ten-day extension for payment, and I said to them, ‘Should I stop work now?’, and they said, ‘No’.”

Mr Erskine says he spoke onsite with Mr Moore and Mr Speakman, who he understood was involved in the project. 

He says that he was told, “We guarantee you payment”.

Mr Erskine says in December he received four $20,000 payments.

“So I took that as an act of good faith.”

The day before talking to Crux, he was paid a further $14,000.

Whenever he chases payment, it’s the “same old speech” – the money will be there at the end of the month.

Maxine Murdoch says her company is in the “same boat as Murray”.

“He (Gavin Moore) just promises a whole lot then just never delivers.”

Mr Erskine says there has been countless sleepless nights in recent months - he is under “severe financial stress” and has had to sell machinery and lay off staff.

Yet he still defends Mr Moore: “I truly believe that if Gavin himself had the money, he would pay me. He’s genuine enough for that.”

He says he wants the resource consent to come through and the project to be a success.

Mr Erskine has had no dealings with Mr Bain.

Mr Moore has confirmed Ross Speakman is working with “the other director”, Mr Bain, but doesn’t “know how the relationship works”.

Mr Speakman has spoken with Crux about the contractors owed money.

He calls one of them “an absolutely atrocious person”, telling Crux we shouldn’t believe anything they say.

He shifts the blame for the unpaid bills from the developers to the QLDC and its drawn out resource consent process, saying “the council doesn’t really understand how much power it has”.

That’s the real story, in his view.

The site high above Frankton Road is steep and not straightforward to develop, making the resource consenting process challenging and drawn out.

“They’ve got everybody’s lives in their hands - they’ve got Mr Moore’s life in their hands, they’ve got Mr Erskine’s life in their hands.”

Apparently, so does Crux, with Mr Speakman saying by publishing any perceived negative story we put the whole project at risk.

“It’s a very, very complex thing...You can write the article. Will it do any good? Probably not. Will it frustrate things? It probably will. Will it help Mr Erskine? Probably not.”

Mr Speakman ends by saying Crux is “treading on big toes”.

At this stage Crux is not sure which set of toes is actually in charge of providing or obtaining further funding for Silver Creek, the Speakman family or David Wallace Bain.

We do know plenty in Queenstown would welcome hundreds of new houses and the Moores seem ideally positioned to deliver them as long as the overdue bills get paid and the council issues the necessary consents.

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