Wānaka locals rally to block McDonald's

by Lauren Pattemore - Nov 24, 2023

After news broke this week that McDonald's has finally filed for resource consent to open in the town, a section of Wānaka's community has been loud in their opposition to the fast-food giant's plans, and a petition 'Stop Wanaka McDonald's' is picking up steam.

The petition has more than 1,500 signatures after it was created two days ago on change.org by Wānaka resident Sarah Morrison, who says she "saw a lot of division on social media" and decided to get together everyone who felt strongly about the proposal.

"Wānaka tends to draw a lot of people who care a lot about the environment and about health, which is probably why there's so many people...willing to say something about it," Ms Morrison says.

"It's a great opportunity for a community to get a say on what its values actually are and whether we want these huge international chains that don't align with those values coming in."

As a public health masters graduate, keen mountaineer, and former McDonald's employee, Ms Morrison is not a fan of the retailer coming to Wānaka. 

"I saw the amount of waste that they produce not only in front of the scenes but behind the scenes as well."

She says her experience is confirmed, with the burger chain being shamed by 'Keep New Zealand Beautiful' as one of the country's biggest waster generators - whether that be food waste or litter.

Consent application documents filed by McDonald's reveal plans for a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation, with more than seventy seats and a drive thru, at the new Mount Iron development.

Queenstown Lakes District deputy mayor and Wānaka resident Quentin Smith says he is also concerned about the amount of litter a McDonald's could bring. 

He says Wānaka has faced a high level of change recently, with a Noel Leeming, The Warehouse and its first vape store all coming to town - a 24-hour restaurant would be another first for the town.

He's seeing a tension play out within Wānaka around old versus new. 

"It was a small town, and then there's a lot of new people here, who are used to having those types of services and are supportive."

Wānaka Chamber of Commerce head Glen Peat says they've been "pretty busy" since the McDonald's news was announced, however he can't yet provide a unified statement on how local businesses feel about it. 

The chamber is planning to send out a survey next week to its members to gauge the mood of the business community on it.

Mr Peat says McDonald's has the power to "evoke strong opinions", and he is aware of people both for and against the proposed store, which he thinks will present both opportunities and challenges if it goes ahead. 

He says he respects the view of residents who are concerned the presence of the international fast-food chain will change the character of the town and its local charm.

"I hope that they are listened to, because their concerns are valid," Mr Peat says. 

Earlier this week McDonald's New Zealand communications lead Kenny Simon told Crux while there have been rumours about McDonald's coming to Wānaka for some time, the company hasn't previously seen a site that meets their criteria.

They have been working with a local developer, and believe the spot by the new Mt Iron roundabout is suitable, have started the formal consent process, and are committed to working through that process as required.

Mr Smith says the Queenstown Lakes District Council and its elected members do not have unlimited control in this situation, and will follow a process outlined in resource management legislation.

As for what's next for Wānaka's McDonald's protesters, Ms Morrison says she plans to present her petition to the Queenstown Lakes District Council, who is charged with processing the company's resource consent application, as well as collecting email address to keep those who sign the petition updated on the planning process. 

She says she's surprised by how much traction the petition has gained already since it started.

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