TVNZ's Sunday: Mayor admits reputational damage to Queenstown

by Lauren Pattemore - Nov 06, 2023

Mayor Glyn Lewers says Queenstown's reputation has taken a hit with the recent water crisis, and offered no solutions to the housing crisis on the latest episode of TVNZ's Sunday programme. 

When asked by journalist Conor Whiton if he thinks there's a fix for the housing problem, Mayor Lewers replies, "In three years, no, let's be honest". 

"But we'll get by, what it will mean is that Queenstown and Wānaka runs the risk of becoming a place just for the well off."

Councillor Nikki Gladding has said on social media she's disappointed the mayor didn't use this opportunity to advocate for more change. 

"It was the perfect opportunity to lobby the new government for specific changes to the legislation and other actions (like the provision of emergency housing) - and he didn't take it. Unless he did and it was edited out..."

Last night, Queenstown Lakes featured on the national current affairs programme, where the TVNZ producers dove into the "dirty secret", as journalist Mr Whiton called it, of the housing crisis, interviewing those sleeping in cars, living in overcrowded homes, and sleeping in tents, as well as business owners who are trying to look after their staff.

Presenter Miriam Kamo says if you "scratch below the surface the tourism mecca is crumbling".  

"You can't drink the tap water and hardworking residents are sleeping in cars with no immediate solution in sight." 

Construction worker Tyler Tipene is showcased cooking sausages from a gas cooker in the car he affectionately named "Lucy", a mattress and sleeping bag in the back. He reveals living like this for four months, having unsuccessfully applied for 80 to 100 rental houses on TradeMe and Facebook. 

"There are hundreds of people just like me, but no one sees it. They just see the tourists and they're like 'awh this is beautiful' but they don't see what's really going on.

"It's not all FergBurgers and bungy's hard for the workers and it's hard if you're wanting to live here and, like, have a life."

Later in the episode, he tells journalist Mr Whiton that living how he does isn't sustainable. 

Queenstown Housing Initiative cofounder Hannah Sullivan agrees, and tells Mr Whiton it's "becoming quite a fragile place". 

Manager of the Rees Hotel Mark Rose is shown filling up containers at his house in Arrowtown before driving to work, something he says he does every morning and will continue to do until the non-compliant Two Mile water treatment plant is fixed. 

The hotel goes through seven 25-litre containers a day, but despite these efforts to provide guests with clean drinking water, he says they've received "a lot of cancellations" as a result of the water crisis. 

Six of his Rees Hotel staff also have time in front of the camera, where it's revealed four of them live in a house with more than eight tenants and are sharing rooms. Waiting for the bathroom can make them late for work, while one isn't even sure how many people live in the same house as them, there's so many. 

The other two say when they first came to Queenstown they lived in one room with two others, sleeping on mattresses on the floor. 

Mr Rose says he's worried that Queenstown will soon become a place exclusively for the "rich", and asks New Zealand's government to step up and put more controls on Airbnb like elsewhere in the world. 

A quick comment from Mayor Glyn Lewers follows this, saying "we keep telling that particular gentlemen there is no legislative framework to actually enforce what he's actually asking". 

"We have to follow the law from central government. It's as simple as that."

And it's not just a problem for Queenstown, as Wānaka-Upper Clutha Community Board deputy chair and Ritual Espresso Cafe owner Chris Hadfield points out, saying the housing crisis is also gripping his town. 

One of his longterm workers, Rachel Stewart, who's been an employee for four years, is now living in a tent with her partner and son because she can't find a place to stay after her lease ended at her current rental. 

Watch the Sunday episode here:


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