"Super consultant" Bruce Robertson faces Lakeview questions

by Peter Newport - Jun 14, 2022

The Queenstown Lakes District Council has confirmed that super-consultant Bruce Robertson was hired by QLDC without any competitive bid or tender process to review council decisions around the controversial $1 billion Lakeview project. Mr Robertson’s report is due to be presented to a full QLDC meeting at the end of this month.

Ruth Stokes at the Lakeview promotional/sales event on May 12. Image: Ninety Four Feet - the Australian developers of Lakeview.

QLDC won’t tell Crux what the fee for the work is and has said that it will take an official information request to get that information from them. Crux has filed that application today.

The council has told Crux that Mr Robertson avoids competitive QLDC procurement processes and was "hired (by direct appointment) for his experience as the former Assistant Auditor-General and as a well-respected advisor on local government governance and probity matters."

Asked by Crux if our Friday (June 10, 2022) report would influence their decision to retain Mr Robertson, QLDC replied, “no.”

Our story detailed how Mr Robertson and Queenstown Chamber of Commerce CEO Ruth Stokes have worked together on multiple projects along with former QLDC staff member Jendi Paterson. Mr Robertson and Mrs Stokes are both associates with the RDC Group in Wellington, a consultancy that carries out high level Government work, including the recent review of problems at the Civil Aviation Authority. 

Mrs Stokes hosted an exclusive Queenstown sales and promotional event for the Lakeview project on May 12th on behalf of the Australian developers – Ninety-Four Feet Ltd.

Councillor Niki Gladding, who called for the report, is concerned that it may not expose what she sees are serious problems with Lakeview including a decision by council managers not to consult with elected councillors on the question of fast track resource consent.

Councillors had asked QLDC staff to make sure that Lakeview went through a publicly notified consent process following the surprise doubling in height of the main Lakeview buildings. Councillor Gladding told Crux this afternoon (June14th) that she has now seen council documents that show QLDC managers said in a Lakeview management meeting that they had “not a lot of appetite” to go back to elected councillors on the issue of fast tracked resource consent, and then allowed the developers to go for non-notified consent, in spite of councillor opposition. 

Minutes of a QLDC Lakeview management meeting obtained by Niki Gladding using official information legislation - the minutes relate to a meeting of the QLDC Lakeview Project Control Group on March 18th, 2021. NFF refers to the Australian developers Ninety Four Feet Ltd.

The Government has now agreed that Lakeview can benefit from the post Covid fast track consent process that avoids the full scrutiny of public notification.

Mr Robertson was involved in a council workshop session earlier this month that Councillor Gladding has told Crux lacked evidence that he was fully versed in the complexities of the Lakeview project.

Councillor Niki Gladding - concerned that the Robertson report won't deliver what was asked for by elected members

I was expecting options in the workshop discussions, and he hadn't appeared to have considered any options for the division of decision making (between QLDC staff and elected councillors).

“So I sat through a workshop, which didn't address any of the issues raised in the notice of motion (calling for the report) and didn’t consider any options around the split in Lakeview decision making powers.”

Currently QLDC CEO Mike Theelen holds full delegated authority to handle all aspects of the Lakeview project. The project is running tens of millions of dollars over budget in terms of ratepayer costs and a deal was done that committed ratepayers to sharing risk (and potential future profits) with the developers instead of QLDC just selling the land to the developers for $42 million.

QLDC ratepayers have so far had to foot a $57 million bill for preparing the land prior to Lakeview building work starting by Ninety Four Feet.

Councillor Gladding wants to see a report that weighs up the best way forwards that splits decision making on Lakeview between council staff and elected members.

She told Crux, “If there are no options for the split of Lakeview decision making powers on the table for councillors, then the review hasn't met the terms of the original resolution.”

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