Mixed reports from councillors at public consultation for new council HQ

by Lauren Pattemore - Dec 01, 2023

Set up on the site of the proposed new council headquarters, four councillors joined Queenstown Lake District Council staff yesterday to talk with passersby on the controversial new civic precinct and council offices - Project Manawa. 

Queenstown Lakes District councillors have differing reports on the reception the project received during the two drop-in sessions, held at the Stanley Street bus hub. 

The council is asking the community to give its thoughts on two aspects of the proposal - namely land swaps and a joint partnership with developer Ngāi Tahu Property to lay foundations for the project to go ahead. 

While a price tag for the project, or any stage of it, remains unknown, $57.4 million has been budgeted towards it in the 2021 to 2031 Long Term Plan.

Councillor Lisa Guy was in attendance yesterday and says she spoke to at least two dozen people and was "quite heartened" about their positive response.

"Personally, I haven't spoken to anyone who hasn't been positive," she says. 

Her verdict on the vibe of locals she's interacted with: "get on with it". She claims people want to see the precinct built, with one particular group enthusiastic about the potential for an arts centre as part of it. 

Among the people Councillor Guy spoke to were five language students, an AirNZ flight attendant, and a woman who lived near to Stanley Street, who she says were all eager to see the new council headquarters in the CBD and not in Frankton. 

Councillor Guy agreed with this sentiment, saying it was better to build on land council already owned. 

In contrast, Councillor Niki Gladding, also onsite yesterday, says she didn't speak to anyone who was "raring for the project to go ahead".

She has concerns about the consultation itself and whether the community actually understands what they are being consulted on, and wonders if a first step should have been to consult on the building itself rather than technical land deals and development partnerships.

"We need to be consulting on whether we want to build a new council bulling, and, if so, where do we want that to be. First and foremost, that's what needs to happen," she says. 

She reckons that there should have been more detail in the proposal about the joint venture model, including some risk analysis.

"People might be excited for the arts centre, but there's no money for that. If people want to see a new arts centre, we can already do that without going into a joint venture."

Councillor Gladding admits to having concerns about the joint venture and the project going ahead in what she believes is "a really constrained fiscal environment".

Councillor Gavin Barlett was on duty at yesterday's earlier session, from 12pm to 2pm. Like Councillor Gladding, he worries the consultation topics are "terribly confusing".

Although he says it was "very quiet", those who did come up and have chat were more interested in the finished project and the buildings, rather than hearing about the land swaps and the joint partnership with the development partner. 

He says generally people did not voice concerns with him about project costs, although one person he spoke to had not even heard of Project Manawa at all.

If everything in the QLDC Project Manawa designs goes ahead, Stanley Street will be the space for the new offices for the council and, in front of it, a new town square, a performing arts centre, a new library, and a transport hub. 

Councillor Guy says the council is open to suggestions as to what the overall project will look like, and she had some discussions with the public about that yesterday. 

Councillor Melissa White, who also attended the public consultations, was approached by Crux but unavailable for comment. 

The community is able to share their thoughts on the proposed land exchanges and partnership with Ngāi Tahu Property until December 17

The two items up for consultation do not include whether or not the community wants the project to go ahead. Instead, the council wants to know whether the community approves of various land swaps between freehold and reserve land along Stanley Street, and potentially out in Frankton, to unlock further development potential for Stanley Street site. 

The second item top for discussion is whether the community is happy for council to enter a joint partnership with Ngāi Tahu Property. Under the current proposal, the developer and QLDC will work together to construct and own the new council HQ, and the council will rent it back for a not-yet-disclosed price. 

Crux journalists Peter Newport and Kim Bowden sat down with council chief executive Mike Theelen and head of special projects Paul Speedy earlier in the week who both claim the CBD plan is the lowest cost option for ratepayers for much-needed new council offices, although it does come with a level of risk.

Responses to date to a Crux survey on the topic are overwhelmingly against it, with 94 percent of the 600 respondents saying 'no' to the proposed HQ at Stanley Street. 

The community is able to share their thoughts on the proposed land exchanges and partnership with Ngāi Tahu Property until December 17

Main image: Councillor Lisa Guy is all smiles at yesterday's Project Manawa drop-in. 

Read more:

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

Consultation begins on next steps for new QLDC headquarters

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