QLDC extends Manawa CBD consultation, $2.1 million spent already

by Peter Newport - Dec 19, 2023


The Queenstown Lakes District Council has extended its Project Manawa community consultation to Friday, December 22 after Crux discovered technical faults with the council’s online feedback site. The council has also revealed to Crux that a total of “approximately” $2.1 million has so far been spent by the council on the CBD/Project Manawa plan with “approximately” $500,000 of that amount being specifically spent on designing the QLDC’s planned new offices.

Crux published details last week of public consultation email links on the feedback site that were incorrectly formatted as well as the fact that the links did not launch (as intended) an email to the council. The format was then fixed but the email link still does not work (December 19 - 11.00 am).

We also asked the QLDC a month ago on November 20 for the following information:

“Can we please get the total investment on Project Manawa to date? We understand it’s been in progress since at least 2014 - how much on lawyers, consultants, architects, business cases, engineers, planners etc?”

A reply was initially promised before the original Manawa consultation closing date of Sunday, December 17. The council’s official information team confirmed to Crux that the data was received from the QLDC finance team on Monday, December 11. However, the council then advised that the information could not be released because it had to be reviewed by Project Manawa boss Paul Speedy. We were then promised the reply by Friday, December 15.

However, nothing was received until late yesterday afternoon, Monday, December 18. This was the absolute deadline permitted under official information legislation.

Here’s is the council’s full reply:

“To address your request, we consulted our finance team and they have provided the information in relation to the total investment on Project Manawa. This was then reviewed by the team involved in this project to ensure there aren’t any withholding grounds. We have decided to release this information to you. Please see our response below:

“Since 2014 total investment in the 'one office' or CAB project is approximately $500k. In addition, to approximately $1.6 million (since 2014) on the wider 'civic heart' or Project Manawa/Stanley Street site development plan and partnership arrangements with NTP (Ngāi Tahu Property)."

Given the length of time take by the QLDC to reply to our official information request we were expecting much more detail, and exact rather than approximate costs. All projects of this size would be expected to run an itemised and detailed account of all money spent and any money received so that the budget can be tracked, audited and reported at any stage.

This type of major project cost report would normally be available within just a few minutes of searching a standard accounting system.

Crux has already reported that the council’s planned CBD office space is 3,500 square metres with a budget (that is not yet fully confirmed) of $51 million, producing a construction cost of well over $14,000 per square metre, double the rate construction consultants say would be expected. A planned library and performing arts centre would take the total cost north of $100 million, not including any of the third party/Ngāi Tahu commercial projects.

Four former mayors met with current mayor Glyn Lewers last Friday December 15 to personally express their lack of support for Project Manawa and their belief that the new QLDC offices should be built on the land at 516 Ladies Mile that the council purchased four years ago for $14 million. No details of the meeting have yet been released but Crux has today (Dec 19) requested a copy of a letter subsequently sent by mayor Lewers to the four former mayors. 

The council’s Project Manawa page still contains inaccurate information under their Frequently Asked Questions section.

The QLDC says that building in Frankton would be more expensive than the CBD because they would have to buy the land there. Here's the exact wording.

"Wouldn’t it be better and cheaper to have these facilities in Frankton?...It wouldn’t necessarily be cheaper because QLDC would have to purchase suitable land to construct this type of facility"

Source: QLDC Project Manawa consultation - Frequently Asked Questions.

This answer ignores the fact that the council already owns and controls the large site on Ladies Mile and that the complex Manawa solution involves a swap with Ngāi Tahu involving land of dramatically different value, an agreement to rent the offices back from Ngāi Tahu in spite of paying $51 million for the build (and getting a $20 million rebate from Ngāi Tahu) and what manager Paul Speedy says is an element of risk due to the complexity of the deal.

The information obtained by Crux shows the QLDC could build new offices of a good specification at 516 Ladies Mile for $21 million (at $6,000 a square foot) with the land already paid for, no complexity, no risk and no future rent payable. That would be a saving of around $20 million to $40 million in the first ten years, assuming the Manawa CBD rent is around $1.7 million a year.

Feedback on Project Manawa can be emailed to [email protected]. The QLDC site suggests that it is not possible for “meaningful” feedback to be submitted at this stage (see the text below from the council’s FAQs) but Crux understands that emailed submissions on any aspect of Project Manawa will have to be considered by the council.

“Why is this consultation process so focused on technical matters? How can I provide meaningful feedback?...The consultation process happening now is required to enable the current and future council to make decisions on the project.  While technical, these are important foundational steps towards getting the best outcome for the land and proceeding with the CAB in a financially beneficial way."

Source: QLDC Project Manawa consultation - Frequently Asked Questions.

Crux has heard concerns from a number of community members that this “technical” consultation, linked to the $2.1 million spend so far on the CBD plan, may contribute to the project being a done deal virtually regardless of what the community, and the four former mayors, think.


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