New drains fail as Queenstown CBD shops flood

by Kim Bowden and Lauren Pattemore - May 12, 2023

Concerns are being raised about whether new slot drains installed in the Queenstown CDB are fit-for-purpose after water flowed into shops during a night of heavy rain last month.

The stormwater designs for the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s town centre upgrade are now being peer reviewed at the request of the man in charge of the business that owns a central tenanted building.

Alan Garrick, the owner of the Night 'n Day on Shotover Street, says he received a middle-of-the-night call on April 11 telling him his store was flooding.

“Police noticed water flowing in the front door.”

They raced to the Church Street Night 'n Day, which was open at the time, and staff there alerted Mr Garrick to the emergency.

At around 2am, the building manager came in with “big vacuum cleaners” to suck the water out.

Water lapped the bases of shelves and luckily no stock was damaged, but the shop lost five hours of trading time.

He says he hasn’t submitted an insurance claim yet, as his excess is high, and he is waiting for some answers about who is at fault.

It is his view it is “very lucky” police spotted the water.

“It saved quite a bit of damage...It could’ve been a lot worse.”

New slot drains outside the Night 'n Day on Shotover Street failed to divert flood water away from the store during 'intense' rain early in the morning on April 11.

At the neighbouring Quicksilver store, the clean up took a bit longer, and its doors remained closed to customers for three days.

Meanwhile, around the corner on Beach Street, Kathmandu was also hit.

A staff member says the store was forced to close for two days to clean up, and some jackets, tents, camping chairs and sleeping bags in a downstairs storage space were damaged.

Five or six sodden ceiling panels also fell from a ground-level ceiling, they say.

The three stores form part of The Mountaineer building, flanked by Beach and Shotover Streets.

The building's owned by Westwood Group and executive director Tony Butson reckons the new stormwater design in the area is not fit for purpose.

He's one of many central business owners who has put up with years of disruption as streetscape and stormwater upgrades have been completed on his doorstep. 

Now, just months after the construction fences have come down and the last road cones gone, he is asking if the $60 million upgrade has failed one of its first real tests.

“My view is this is a design issue.”

Fit-for-purpse? The new flush slot drains help realise the shared space vibe, but can they handle heavy rain and keep shop floors dry?

In its town centre upgrades, the council has opted to ditch the more traditional kerb and channel, which forms a barrier between the road and the footpath outside shops, in favour of a seamless shared space approach using slot drains that sit flush with the pavement.

Mr Butson says, “the chance for slot drains to be blocked is a lot higher because of leaves and general debris”.

Gradients need to be correct to ensure water flows towards the drains and away from buildings.

On the night of the flood, he understands water flowed down Brecon, Duke and Shotover Streets to inundate one side of the building, as well as down Beach Street on the other side.

He says he asked the council to have its stormwater designs peer reviewed.

A council spokesperson has confirmed an investigation is underway in response “to the localised flooding that occurred…due to an intense rain event” on April 11.

It is working with Kā Huanui a Tāhuna - the Whakatipu Transport Programme Alliance, charged with delivering a number of capital projects on behalf of the council and Waka Kotahi - on a review of the stormwater system installed as part of the street upgrades, the spokesperson says.

“Our own investigation will be complemented by an independent peer review. These will confirm the cause of the flooding and any further action required. We’re also looking at the existing network to ensure it’s operating as it should.”

The council would not tell Crux what contractors were responsible for the design and install of the new system, while information on how much these contracts were worth was also withheld due to “commercial sensitivity” reasons.

The spokesperson says the council was unaware of the flooding until after the event, so was unable to offer any support to the affected premises at the time.

Meanwhile Mr Butson says during a period of heavy rain this week, his building came away unscathed.

“We’ll wait to see what that peer review says before we say anything else.

“With something like this, you’re calling into question some pretty significant works that have been done.

“I don’t think there is anything that has been done deliberately…to be fair, the council was as surprised as we were.”

'I love the look and feel of the inner city works. It’s lifted the whole CBD to world class': Westwood Group executive director Tony Butson. Westwood Group owns The Mountaineer building.

After years of disruption from construction works, Mr Butson says he is generally happy with the town centre upgrades.

“I love the look and feel of the inner city works. It’s lifted the whole CBD to world class.”

He says “good on” the council for kicking into gear and being able to push go on the project to make use of central government’s shovel-ready fund.

The council is reported as saying it “had to start at speed” in order to be in a position to receive the government funding. 

The total budget for the project was $60 million, which included $35 million from Wellington, and $25 million from the QLDC.

While there’s the obvious new shared spaces, pavers, bespoke lights and street furniture, the council’s former infrastructure boss told Crux early on the upgrade project also involved work to “future-proof the town’s essential services like three water”, which “the public won’t see”.

Unfortunately, what the public can see, all too well, is this vital infrastructure failing to do its job properly.


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