QLDC CEO Theelen's $12k UK study trip approved

by Kim Bowden - Apr 05, 2024

The boss of the Queenstown Lakes District Council will be travelling to the United Kingdom in June in a bid to learn more about doing deals with national government to deliver local infrastructure projects.

At yesterday's full council meeting in Queenstown, councillors approved a request from chief executive Mike Theelen's request to join a study tour heading to London, Manchester and Cardiff.

The total cost for the trip is $12,616.

The tour is limited to 25 senior executives from across the private sector and central and local government.

It will focus on 'city deals', a funding model that has been successfully implemented in several of the destinations, and one the current Kiwi government is increasingly moving towards.

Mr Theelen told councillors the investment model is being investigated by the government, and the United Kingdom is where is was "pioneered".

"The whole model is about providing a pathway for shared central and government investment into key infrastructure and broader community and societal outcomes," he says.

"They're the model that this new incoming government has signalled as the way they want to have a relationship with local government."

Mr Theelen says city deals are a way of devolving power back to local communities.

Infrastructure New Zealand has been lobbying for change in this direction, with chief executive Nick Leggett saying in a statement late last year the model seeks to rebalance the relationship between central and local government and can address the country's massive infrastructure deficit.

“Councils should benefit far more from the economic growth they’re helping create and that their communities are paying for,” Mr Leggett says.

“At present we have a lopsided model where the benefits of economic development mostly go to central government while local government bears most of the cost.”

With Wellington so far answering with a firm 'no' to the district's calls for a local tourist or bed tax, Queenstown Lakes' decision makers may need to start lobbying for other funding solutions.

Speaking at yesterday's meeting, Mayor Glyn Lewers says the sorts of deal he would be looking to negotiate for the district would have a focus wider and more strategic than one project.

The comment was made in response to Councillor Cody Tucker querying whether the partnership between the QLDC and the New Zealand Transport Agency delivering the problem-plagued, pricey arterial road project was a good example of the 'city deal' model.

"It's not a laundry list of projects," the mayor says.

"It's shared outcomes between central and local (government)."

Mr Theelen says he thinks one significant benefit of the trip will be his "travelling with a number of key decision makers from central government and possibly industry".

"It will be an opportunity for us to ensure QLDC is at the forefront of peoples' minds when they're thinking about those areas that actually would benefit from this type of investment."

In response to Councillor Esther Whitehead questioning whether a proxy could attend on behalf of the council, rather than the boss himself, Mr Theelen outlined what he thinks he could offer the tour. 

"They were looking for people who already have a degree of knowledge, seniority and ability to influence policymakers.

"I have got an effective relationship and the ability to speak quite authoritatively from a New Zealand context on the effects of spatial planning and the need for growth and to be able to convey that to other senior people."

The study tour is in June and Mr Theelen is expected to be away from the district for approximately two weeks.

Main image (QLDC): Queenstown Lakes District Council chief executive Mike Theelen.

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