Wānaka's breakaway petition dies but QLDC given warning

by Kim Bowden - Dec 18, 2023

A petition calling for Wānaka and the Upper Clutha to break away from the Queenstown Lakes District and govern alone has died today after the Local Government Commission announced it will not investigate the matter any further.

More than 1,241 confirmed ratepayers and residents joined Wānaka man Dean Rankin's call to have his side of the Crown Range separate off from the district council, but today the government body charged with assessing if their argument stacked up made the ultimate call that it did not.

On a conference call at lunchtime today, Mr Rankin along with representatives from the Queenstown Lakes District Council was delivered the commission's verdict that there will be no formal investigation into the proposed split.

In its decision, the commission notes while there may be some support for the initiative "the issue is likely not top of mind for most of the community".

Despite not proceeding with any investigation, the commission has indicated it is recommending the council works with the Wānaka-Upper Clutha Community Board and Mr Rankin to increase transparency and improve communication.

It would like to see an action plan for how this could be achieved, as well as more regular meetings and other council activities held in the area.

After years of putting together a case, Mr Rankin says, "Obviously I'm disappointed".

"I know that when I share this more widely with others in the community and we have time to discuss it, they will feel the same.

"There's a real sense of disenfranchisement here."

It is his view the council has lost a lot of trust with the community.

"They've made a lot of mistakes. They've misspent far too much ratepayer money. They have made some key decisions recently which have been hugely disappointing for ratepayers right across the district. But this is also a pattern which has developed over a long period of time, and we are all super frustrated.

"While it's good that the LGC has made some recommendations, I'm worried that the steps which QLDC commit to will make no measurable difference, and we'll just get more of the same. It wouldn't be the first time the QLDC has used PR and comms to look great whilst there are real problems in this district.

"I am also concerned that time and energy spent on 'engagement' will not help get to heart of the problem, which is a complete lack of trust. We don't need more words and spin - we need fundamental change."

Mr Rankin says he will now take some time now to look over the decision and decide how he may best work with the QLDC on the action points outlined in it.

"And, more importantly, to see how those action points can have real teeth."

Actions of senior council manager slammed

In a statement after today's meeting, Mr Rankin also took aim at what he claims were "unnecessary and divisive" comments by a senior QLDC staff member.

He claims corporate services manager Meaghan Miller took the opportunity to criticise the Wānaka community for lack of engagement at the most recent council meeting, which was held in the town.

"This is totally disingenuous and disrespectful, when at previous meetings the attendance has been extensive and vibrant," Mr Rankin says.

"The meeting just held was in the busy Christmas season, and perhaps lack of attendance reflects the effectiveness of QLDC communications within the Wānaka community.

"There was actually nothing too exciting or controversial on the agenda.

"Meghan's comments were unnecessary and divisive, and ironically a perfect example of QLDC not being able to read the room.

"This is the kind of disrespect and disregard for the community which wears the community down.

"Given that she is one of QLDC's most senior officials and chose to say this in a meeting with the commission just speaks volumes."

However, Ms Miller believes Mr Rankin has "misinterpreted" her comments.

In a written statement provided to Crux she says she did not "criticise or disrespect the community".

"Actually it was the opposite. I said what a great place Wānaka was to live, with many council staff now residing there.

"One of the recommendations is to hold more meetings in the Upper Clutha. I raised the non-attendance at the meeting last week as a case in point and it was in no way a criticism of any party or individual.

"I think Mr Rankin’s given reasons for non-attendance at the meeting are entirely reasonable. The example was given to demonstrate that we can create opportunities but sometimes there really is little or no interest.

"Regardless, we agreed today to do more to engage and more to understand what the community does care about."

The council has also been asked for comment on today's decision.

For those who are interested in the detail, the full written decision is available here.

Main image: Dean Rankin is disappointed the Local Government Commission will not take his petition calling for Wānaka and surrounds to split from the Queenstown Lakes District Council any further.

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