Commercial pool users in shock at 'unreasonable' 74% price hike

by Kim Bowden - Apr 06, 2023

The Queenstown Lakes District Council has proposed increases to plenty of user-pays services for the year ahead – but a 74 percent price hike for private businesses that hire lanes for exclusive use at public pools seems steep to those set to be impacted by it.

The council is taking feedback on its draft annual plan, in which jumps are proposed to the fees and charges for a bunch of facilities and services – rubbish dumps, building and resource consents, hall hirage, dog registration, car parking, and pool entry, among them.

Tim Brazier, who works for Fitter Coaching in Wānaka, says the proposed new fees represent a “significant jump”.

His business is one of three in Wānaka looking to pay $20 an hour to hire a lane at the local pool complex. Now, they pay $11.50, so that’s a jump of $8.50 or 73.9 percent.

“I think anybody who was facing a 74 percent increase in their rates or their rent, for their house or their business or anything, would find that very unreasonable.”

Stacey Wells, the owner of the Wānaka Swim Academy, which provides swimming lessons for young people, agrees.

She says the proposed increase “has come as a shock”. 

“The rates have been the same for a few years now and an increase has certainly been expected but not an increase of this magnitude. I would have thought a 20 percent increase, but not 74 percent.”

If the plan goes through unchanged, she will need to “significantly raise the price of children's swim lessons to cope”.

“This is of huge concern to us as in the present economic climate families are already stretched financially.”

She thinks it will result in some families not being able to afford her swimming lessons.

“It is very concerning. All children in our community should have swim lessons available to them at an affordable price. Swimming is an essential life skill.” 

Another commercial user, Merryn Johnston, a coach with Peak Endurance Wānaka, says it still amazes her that she's coaching many Kiwi adults who have fallen through the cracks and have not learnt to swim.

She works helping swimmers improve their technique, but also with adults taking to a pool for the first time – among them are some newcomers to the district, who may come from cultures where learning to swim isn’t always valued.

“It’s such a privilege to be able to help people overcome a lifelong fear of never being able to put their face into the water.” 

She says the sudden 74 percent fee increase has the potential to "squeeze our small Wānaka businesses out of operation".

Peak Endurance Wānaka believes the increase also puts disproportionate pressure on the swimming community.

While general entry for adult swimmers at the Wānaka Recreation Centre is proposed to drop by 50 cents for the coming year, commercial users of the pool are facing a 74 percent jump in fees.

"We all pay rates that directly contribute to the upkeep on the pool; we pay pool membership or entry to swim; and we pay lane space to run sessions for adult swimmers.

“It feels like three times over they are being charged," Ms Johnston says.

Mr Brazier agrees the swimming community already delivers plenty of value to the council.

He says he gets that he and others represent commercial businesses, but the council and the community gain from the work they do – clients still pay an entry fee to enter the pool in addition to the lane fee paid by Fitter, and Fitter helps create a community of dedicated users of the council facility. 

He says he received no heads-up of the price hike prior to the draft plan being released, although he's since meet with council staff on it.

If the change does carry through to the signed-off plan, his business would have had only a few months notice of the additional expense.

He's disappointed there was no discussion prior to the fee increase being proposed – there was no attempt by the council to seek to understand the lay of the land from the point of view of his business as a frequent user of the council space.

“My concern is that as a user of the pool on a daily basis...that the council before they submitted the draft plan didn’t have conversations with us about this.

“I think it’s just a really poor process that they’ve executed.”

He is not against an increase, but he is hopeful the council will be open to negotiating one less steep.

Ms Johnston says she is "optimistic the council will listen to its constituents" and work collaboratively.

"It's not done and dusted...There's a submission process, there's going to be a hearing opportunity...We want to make this work."

It is not just commercial pool user set to be stung by increases in hire charges – community users, like swim clubs, will be charged more too, but the council is suggesting a far milder 11 percent rise for them, while standard users (this will include individual members of the public wanting a lane to themselves) will pay 30 percent more.

The council also runs its own learn to swim and water safety classes, the cost of which includes pool entry for participants, and a price rise is proposed for these too – although a less aggressive one.

A lesson for a child will jump 16 percent from $12.50 to $14.50, while for an adult, 11 percent, from $19 to $21. 

Meanwhile, the council is proposing cheaper general pool entry for adults – a 50 cent saving from $8.50 to $8 – plus the introduction of discounted entry for tertiary students.

Hydroslide users in Queenstown are also set to save, with the price to slide proposed to drop $1 (20 percent), from $5 to $4.

In an earlier statement announcing the draft annual plan, Mayor Glyn Lewers says the council is feeling the pinch along with everyone else of rising interest rates, high inflation, and growing business costs.

“Council is not immune to these pressures and as an organisation we continue to strive for greater cost efficiencies while protecting our levels of service and delivery on behalf of the community.”

So, what else may go up in price?

Here’s a heads-up of some of the other proposed increases detailed in the draft annual plan:

  • General registration for a pet dog up $50 (30 percent), from $165 to $215
  • Cost per tonne to dispose of rubbish at a transfer station up $49 (13 percent), from $371 to $420; while a single rubbish sack will go up 50 cents (six percent), from $8 to $8.50
  • Building and resource consent related services are going up by approximately five percent across the board
  • Casual entry to the council’s gym in Queenstown up $2.50 (13 percent), froom $20 to $22.50
  • Climbing wall entry for a club member up $2 (33 percent), from $6 to $8; while entry for a non-member will go up $1.50 (12 percent), from $12.50 to $14

Keen to make a submission on the draft annual plan? Head to the council's Let's Talk page.

Read more: QLDC rates bombshell: 13.6 percent hike proposed

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