QLDC documents reveal new CBD council offices may be a done deal

by Peter Newport - Dec 11, 2023

In spite of the Queenstown Lakes District Council currently consulting the community on plans to build a new council headquarters in the CBD, documents obtained by Crux indicate the plan is virtually a done deal with multiple construction consultants already being paid by the council.

Indications from the QLDC comms and PR team have been very much that “nothing is settled” and they value the views of the community. However closed council workshop documents released to Crux under official information legislation show no further community consultation and a 'full speed ahead' timeline for the council and civic precinct in Queenstown’s Stanley Street - see graphic timeline below. 

No current cost estimate exists for the project and four former mayors have come out in opposition to the grand scheme, saying any council office should be located out at Ladies Miles on land already owned by the council. Some earlier council estimates put their new offices at a cost of $50 million, to be followed by the ongoing cost of renting the offices back from the 50/50 Ngāi Tahu Property/ Council CCO, but recent projects such as Lakeview and Stage 1 of the Arterial Road have experienced cost blowouts well above 100 percent.

Crux has also discovered that the Christchurch City Council is in a substantial dispute with Ngāi Tahu over the rent for their offices, built under a partnership agreement. 

Mayor Glyn Lewers had to use his casting vote at a full council meeting in August this year to push through the current move forward – public consultation, not on whether the scheme should happen but on technical issues such as a land swap and a property development deal with Ngāi Tahu Property. There is increasing evidence that this consultation is likely to be the last stop before the QLDC commits to unspecified expenditure on a CBD HQ and civic precinct that even their own project manager agrees carries an element of risk.

The Chief Ombudsman has recently criticised councils all over New Zealand for carrying out briefings and discussion with elected members behind closed doors in 'workshops' where full records are not usually kept or released.

To shine some light on what may have been discussed at these public-excluded meetings, Crux requested all records of recent workshops involving Project Manawa, the council’s code name for the CBD project, and received documents that show just how advanced the construction plans are.

A document presented to councillors at a workshop on June 13 this year, covering both Manawa and the $14 million unused council land at 516 Ladies Mile, is titled “Project Manawa – Queenstown Community Heart: Site Development Report”.

The report was produced with seven major design and construction partners who have been working on the Manawa project for at least the past three years.

Those companies are:

  • The Building Intelligence Group – Project Management
  • Jasmax – Architecture and Urban Design
  • Cosgroves – Services and Fire Protection
  • Mitchell Daysh – Town Planning
  • Rhodes Associates – Quantity Surveyor
  • Holmes – Civil Constriction and Structures
  • Inovo – Project Programming

The report also lists a number of stakeholders under what was originally called Project Connect, linked to the “QLDC Office Migration Group” –  parallel projects with Manawa to get all council staff under one roof rather than working in the current separate buildings. QLDC documents indicate that this plan started in 2013.

  • KPMG
  • Rationale Consulting - Transport Strategy, Town Master Plan Business Case
  • NZTA - Wakatipu Way to Go
  • QLDC Office Migration Group - Project Connect Brief
  • QLDC ELT Presentation updates
  • QLDC/NTP PCG and Steering group meetings

Crux asked the QLDC on November 20 for details of the amount of money spent so far on these consultants and stakeholders. The QLDC refused to answer that question by our deadline, saying instead our request would be treated as a LGOIMA (offical information act) request. An official response is required by law to be delivered by Monday, December 18, 2023.

A document  prepared for councillors who attended an August 3 workshop on Project Manawa contains a timeline graphic that shows the current consultation may in fact be the last public step prior to the project being unstoppable.

Councillors have been briefed in August this year on the basis that no further public consultation will follow the current technical questions around land swaps and a relationship with Ngāi Tahu Property.

The four former mayors who have objected to the current plan have requested a meeting with QLDC elected members and managers. Crux has asked to attend this meeting.

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