Mayor says council can't apply brakes - strap in for continued growth

by Kim Bowden - Oct 30, 2023

It is futile trying to stop the flow of new residents coming to the Queenstown Lakes District, the focus needs to stay on planning well to accommodate them.

That’s the view of Mayor Glyn Lewers, in response to fresh figures from Stats NZ revealing the southern district to be the fastest growing in the country by far.

Some 3,900 additional people called the area home in the year ending June 30 – that is 1,000 more people than the population of Arrowtown delivered in 12 months.

The figure reflects eight percent year-on-year growth in a country where the national average is close to two percent.

Applying the brakes is not on the council’s agenda.

“Growth will always be something we need to cater for in our district,” the mayor says.

“It is a desirable destination that will always attract people to it. The live debate is how best we manage that growth.”

He says the eight percent population jump did not take him by surprise, and he is confident the council’s own figures are keeping pace.

Our most recent demand projections estimated a resident population of 52,020 for 2023, comparing to the Stats NZ figure of 52,800 – that’s 1.5 percent difference.

“Having two different projection models, central government’s and ourselves, being so close gives us confidence.”

However, as recently as two years ago, when a spatial plan was developed to help shape where and how the district would grow over three decades, the council’s numbers were quite different.

The document projected that by 2051, 78,000 people would reside in Queenstown Lakes, 27,000 more than the 51,000 people here in 2021.

It doesn’t take a maths whizz to show growth at eight percent blows these figures out.

But the mayor says the council is continually adjusting its projections, based on the newest data available.

"The process for updating the demand projections is two-fold: update the starting point for the new projections and then forecast the data out 30 years."

Yet latest council projections the mayor points to appear to still only allow for two percent growth over ten years and 1.6 percent over 30 - conservative when viewed in light of the last year of extraordinary growth, although some of this surge can be attributed to a return to relative normal post pandemic.

It is vital the council get this as close to right as possible, as the population projections are used to make vital planning decisions.

As the mayor puts it, the projections “form the basis of assumptions in key QLDC workflows”.

Planning for growth: Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Glyn Lewers says it's a good problem to have.

In the year ahead, as money gets divvied up for public infrastructure projects needed over the coming decade during the creation of the next Long Term Plan, the council will draw on these figures to make some big decisions.

The mayor says he likes “the challenges of being mayor of a growth district”.

One of the biggest: ensuring there is funding in place to build the infrastructure needed to support that growth, he reckons.

Last year's population explosion was largely fuelled by newcomers to the district, with the bulk of them arriving from overseas.

Alongside the growing resident population is a growing visitor population, and that provides additional pressure for accommodation, efficient transport networks, and safe, compliant three waters infrastructure.

Mayor Lewers, following on from predecessor Jim Boult, has lobbied Wellington for a targeted tourist tax in the district, with revenue reserved for local projects.

Although the National Party showed little appetite for such a tax on the election trail, with party finance spokesperson Nicola Willis ruling it out during a finance debate in Queenstown in September, the mayor hasn’t given up the fight entirely.

“I will continue to raise those needs with our incoming government and look forward to working with them on appropriate ways they can support our community be that a visitor levy or another avenue,” the mayor says.

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