Councillors and mayor in standoff over new QLDC HQ

by Kim Bowden - Sep 01, 2023

Mayor Glyn Lewers has used his casting vote to break a 6-6 tie on future plans on where to build a new QLDC headquarters.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council will now consult on the next steps to build new council offices in central Queenstown rather than Frankton.

A number of residents presented in the public forum of yesterday's council meeting to urge councillors to reconsider locating the ambitious new council building in the CBD and committing most of the council's 600-plus employees to a Frankton Road commute.

However council chief executive Mike Theelen was clear: yesterday's decision was not about where to locate a civic administration building.

“We’re not making a decison on whether we’re going to Frankton or not in this process,” he said.

“Council has established a position, and it has established that formally, that it prefers a postion in the town centre.”

It was a view backed by the mayor, who said he could “remember as if it was yesterday” the community being canvassed about a new council HQ during the creation of the 2018 to 2028 Ten Year Plan, when money was first put aside for the project.

However, the amount of time passed since that process did not sit well with all councillors during during the debate, with some saying they anticipated push back from the community during the next consultation process, regardless of whether they were technically being asked for their opinion on the subject or not. 

Mr Theelen continually worked to refocus councillors’ attention back to what he believed yesterday's council decision was about, referring to the outcomes of the original motion as “building blocks that enable us to take the next strategic steps”.

“I see these very much as making us race opposed to committing us to anything at the moment.” 

Several councillors questioned the quality of the consultation document they were being asked to approve, voicing concerns that it didn’t make clear to residents and ratepayers all the options in front of the council. 

Councillor Niki Gladding, who moved the alternative motion, said the land swaps outlined were all about putting the pieces of the puzzle in place to unlock land for council offices and in fact the community could still have its proposed new performing arts centre and library on public reserve land already available at the Stanley Street site without them. 

That wasn’t made clear in the consultation document, in her view.

"I actually think it is a little misleading."

Her alternative motion, introduced during the meeting and seconded by councillor Matt Wong, sought to add a "do nothing option" to those being presented to the public for consultation.

A purpose-built library and transport hub is part of the vision for Project Manawa, but there is no money in the budget for it yet (Image: QLDC document).

Councillor Esther Whitehead acknowledged the council was attempting to ask for responses from the community to some “incredibly complex” questions, and she thought exactly what was at stake in terms of land that could be lost was unclear in the document.

Councillor Wong suggested the uncomfortableness of some around the council table in making yesterday's decision should provide an “inkling” as to what community sentiment may be to the council HQ project moving forward in the current climate.

Councillor Lisa Guy said she felt it would be wrong to stop a “mullti-generational project” out of “fear” of big numbers or big decisions. 

“What I see before us at the moment is to take the next bite of the elephant.

“I don’t see this consultation as being the end point of this journey.

“I don’t see our council staffers asking us to make the call about where our civic adminstration building is.

“I would like to see this site progress.”

Councillor Craig 'Ferg' Ferguson also argued for councillors to continue to move forward with the project to continue the momentum generated by elected members that came before them.

"Decisions start to get looked at and rolled back...that doesn't sit comfortably with me."

Councillor Melissa White suggested council staff pare back some of the pretty pictures in the glossy 24-page document being used for public consultation - the community is only being asked about the council HQ itself and land swaps needed to enable it in the CBD as well as how the partnership with Ngāi Tahu to deliver and manage it moving forward could work.

There was a suggestion the additional pictures "muddied" that.

However Mr Theelen said he felt it was appropriate to include images for Project Manawa beyond council HQ, including a purpose-built library and performing arts centre, to show the community the bigger vision for the site.

The document describes the options on the table, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each, and seeks submissions from the community to guide future decision making on the project.

Consultation on the options is expected to start in October.  

Further decisions on the construction of proposed future facilities will come at a later date.

During the 2018 to 2028 Ten Year Plan consultation, residents and ratepayer were asked for feedback on three options - leasing multiple CBD buildings (basically the status quo), leasing one building in the CBD, or building a council controlled building on council controlled land.

At the time, $42.3 million was budgeted for the project.

Council documents at the time call that particular long term plan "bold and ambitious with a capital investment programme three times larger than ever previously proposed by this council".

In the following Ten Year Plan cycle, the budget for the project was bumped up to $57.4 million, although its scope did not change in that time.

Read more: Project Manawa - QLDC's new HQ taking next steps with costs unknown


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