Wānaka businesses homeless as QLDC evicts them from Ballantyne Rd site

by Kim Bowden - May 22, 2024

More than a dozen businesses in Wānaka are scrambling to find new places from which to work after being given four weeks by the Queenstown Lakes District Council to vacate makeshift yards beside Wastebusters - and they are not happy about the situation or how it has been handled.

The council bought the 8.3-hectare property at 189 Ballantyne Road for $3.36 million in December, and since then those set up on the land say it has been radio silence from the authority.

That is until last Thursday, when they received an email from council leasing administrator Priscila Da Silva telling them they need to be gone from the site within 30 days.

The yards at 189 Ballantyne Road are well used by local businesses, but everything there needs to go within 30 days.

Jason Morgan, the owner and director of Central Lakes Engineering, says the out-of-the blue email providing him his "marching orders" felt like a "kick in the guts".

He says a 'Sold' sign going up was the first he knew of the land changing hands, and since then his business had been in limbo.

"Myself and the other local businesses feel pissed off and, quite honestly, let down by the council.

"This sort of attitude makes me wonder whether they really care about good, honest, local businesses at all."

Ash Whitaker of Peak Contracting says the email was particularly disappointing for him after spending six months unsuccessfully attempting to connect with council staff to get an update on the lay of the land.

"I've diarised every time I've tried to contact the council, and I've rung them 27 times since they took ownership. I've tried their CEO, I've been talking to their lawyer, I've tried everyone and nobody will ring me back.

"There's just been no communication from the council at all."

Mr Whitaker thinks it is a case of out of sight - over the Crown Range in Wānaka - out of mind.

"You know, unless it's got Queenstown in the name, Queenstown Lakes District Council don't seem to want to know ya."

He says he employs "five local people" and there will be "a lot more people that are affected down there".

While he has a promising potential option lined up to move to, there is still plenty of paperwork to get the spot ready, and a month is not long enough to do it all.

But he doesn't know where all the other businesses will go.

"There's a real lack of space available in Wānaka at the present time."

Mr Morgan's crew uses a small fenced area at the site for sand blasting and painting.

"It's something I can't do in town."

The extent of the set-ups on council's site at Ballantyne Road.

He says he has quoted jobs lined up that rely on use of the space to deliver.

Another business operator - who has asked to remain anonymous due to the nature of their work - says they suspect the council could be years away from utilising the site and thinks it is short-sighted to boot people out this early.

"They're gonna put a fence up, lock the gates, it'll grow weeds and be an eyesore.

"In the spirit of local interest, I would have thought it would have been good to keep those 14 contractors happy and paying rent."

The businesses at the Ballantyne block spoken to by Crux all say they had been paying the previous owner month to month.

They also say they have not paid rent to the council since it took ownership - but not through a lack of trying.

In her email, Ms Da Silva acknowledges what she calls "a casual arrangement with the former owners to use part of the site for storage or similar purposes".

"Please take this email as formal written notice that such an arrangement is terminated," she says.

"If you are currently using the site, or any of your property remains onsite, QLDC requires you to vacate."

When Crux visited on Tuesday yards were loaded with everything from port-a-loos, to fences, rubbish skips, site offices, storage sheds, trucks and machinery, with multiple work crews coming and going or set up on site.

In her email, Ms Da Silva advises the council "will shortly be commencing an assessment of the site to inform design options", and it requires it to be empty for this work.

When it announced the land purchase in December, the council outlined a plan to build a "new fit-for-purpose transfer station" on the site, saying the facility would "play a pivotal role in advancing waste management practices within the Upper Clutha".

The council was approached for comment on today's story but missed a publication deadline, with a spokesperson indicating an update on the situation may be possible tomorrow (Thursday). 

Main image: Jason Morgan, the owner and director of Central Lakes Engineering, says the out-of-the blue email from the council providing him his 'marching orders' felt like a 'kick in the guts'.

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