Rule-breaking vendors monopolising 'prime' position on Queenstown lakefront

by Kim Bowden - Mar 05, 2024

Up to a dozen rogue vendors are monopolising the Queenstown waterfront and refusing to follow council rules on trading.

That was the update provided to Queenstown Lakes District councillors by monitoring and enforcement staff at a workshop today - the first such workshop to be open to media and members of the public.

There's been an explosion of sellers on the 150-metre stretch of public space sandwiched between Lake Whakatipu and Earnslaw Park as tourists have returned post Covid-19, and some are failing to comply with the council's recently reviewed Activities in Public Places Bylaw.

Council officers have been pounding the pavement educating traders on what's required - specifically that they need to be spaced 50 metres a part and move on after one hour - but they say their advice is being ignored by six to 12 repeat offenders.

One staff member says it is "unique" that general compliance is not happening after a widespread education campaign.

Councillors heard today that staff are now considering more "serious" steps they could take to ensure compliance, which could include revoking permits, providing formal warnings, and seizing trading equipment.

The option to trespass vendors is also being considered, although staff acknowledge a wariness around trespassing people from a public space.

Staff say they have been fielding an increasing number of complaints about traders, some of whom have even been leaving their kit parked up overnight on public land.

They say it is an issue of "equity", with a few monopolising what should be a public space available for use by all.

The new rules allow for just three to four pop-up stalls or buskers on the lakefront area outside of designated market days, and enforcement officers at the end of last year were routinely finding more than 20. 

Although the number has since dropped off, it is still not low enough, and some people continue to nab a spot and claim it all day.

Councillor Lisa Guy says when she was visiting in recent days the line up of vendors was preventing other members of the public from accessing the steps dropping down to the lake, forcing people with ice creams and other takeaway food to move on.

She says she also empathises with surrounding business owners, who are facing increasing regulatory responsibilities on top of lease obligations, and are now finding themselves in competition with pop-up stalls selling sometimes similar products with much fewer obligations "right on their boundary".

She calls the stretch "prime real estate”.

Councillor Esther Whitehead thinks some of the problem lies with the council's own permitting system, which is dishing out an unlimited number of permits to vendors and buskers wanting to set up shop in the public space.

“We’re enabling lots of licence holders and we can have three (to four) compliant licence holders here.

"We’re kind of enabling people to breach our own rules.”

She says she has spoken to pop-up stall holders who would be willing to pay for a permit to operate.

The response from several other councillors appeared to show an appetite for consideration of this.

However, staff told councillors the current bylaw does not allow them to limit the number of permits, and any move to do so would need careful thought.

"If you do limit them, you add significant value to them," one staff member says.

Mayor Glyn Lewers referenced the council's taxi permit scheme, which is capped each year. Last month, Crux revealed drivers have been on-selling permits with a significant mark-up - in one case, $2,300.

Council chief executive Mike Theelen says the bylaw in question is focused on protecting public spaces for use by all and any talk of commercial arrangements between the council and vendors would be well outside its current scope.

Mr Theelen steered today's conversation away from any critique of last year's bylaw review process, which councillor Niki Gladding says is still a "contentious" topic.

Ms Gladding maintains there were key differences between the draft version of the bylaw that went out for consultation and the final version signed off by the council, undermining the robustness of the public submission process.

A handful of stallholders attended today's workshop; although, while standing orders now allow members of the public to attend, there is no allowance for any participation.

Members of the public and media can also not electronically or digitally record or photograph proceedings.

Keen to know more about council workshops? Check out the dedicated page on the council's website here.

Main image: A 150-metre stretch of lakefront pavement in central Queenstown has been dubbed 'desirable real estate' for pop-up vendors, but outside of designated market days competition for space is fierce.


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