“Wingfield”: the doomed plan for QLDC’s toxic house revealed
Official records filed by the Queenstown Lakes District Council show that the “Wingfield Community House and Park” was the actual planned use of the $14 million land and “toxic” house purchased by the council at 516 Ladies Mile.
Recently council staff and managers have been trying to convince ratepayers that the $14 million purchase was never about the house and only a “strategic land acquisition.”
The council’s own 2022 resource consent application tells a completely different story.
Crux has now pieced together how the project unfolded and how QLDC not only planned the now to be demolished house as the central feature of the $3.6 million Wingfield project but allowed the house to literally rot away by not carrying out any of the remedial work recommended in a 2019 pre-purchase inspection.
The Queenstown Lakes District Council purchased 516 Ladies Mile after being approached from a local real estate agent who told the council it would be a great investment and there were a lot of interested buyers.
Dave Fea, working under the Sotheby’s International Real Estate brand, was the real estate agent.
The title for the property shows the vendors as two members of the Walker family, Jan and Sonya along with Duncan Fea (Dave Fea’s brother) who was acting as a trustee and representative for the Walker family trust. Duncan Fea is Managing Partner at Findex Queenstown, and he’s also linked to at least 74 companies or trusts in real estate and tourism businesses, as well as being a political supporter of mayor Glyn Lewers' recent election campaign.
Bill Walker (ONZM) was a key supplier of engineering services to major projects including the Clyde Dam, the Marsden Point refinery and the Bluff aluminium smelter.
He died in a tragic gliding accident in Namibia in 2014.
The council commissioned a valuation report from Colliers who valued the land at between $7.4 million and $13.5 million. The large Walker house, that included an aircraft hangar, was valued at between $4 million and $7 million with Colliers saying the condition of the house was “good” inside and externally.
However, Colliers did then include a caveat about the condition of the house saying they could not accept any liability due to “contamination of the property.”
On the advice of Colliers QLDC did commission a pre-purchase report that included some serious information about the state of the house.
“Given the visual evidence of deficiencies, evidence of water damage and elevated moisture reading, it is recommended that further invasive investigation be carried out. This further invasive investigation should determine the cause of the identified water ingress, the extent of any deterioration as a result and to determine appropriate remediation to repair the issues.”
Source: QLDC Pre-purchase building inspection report.
The council’s own rateable value for the house and land on July 1st 2017 was just $6.42 million.
On the 15th of February 2019 QLDC paid $15.5 million for the house and land, including GST ($13.8 million without GST), knowing that the house had advanced watertightness issues and needed urgent remedial work.
When Crux asked about this apparently very high price QLDC supplied the following statement:
“Council completed the purchase on the basis of the land as a future strategic asset and community facility. There was no expectation at the time of purchase to repurpose the house and the intent was to demolish it. Notwithstanding that, Council needed to be competitive in the market to secure the property and this is what shaped the final price offered and subsequently accepted.
“The opportunity was presented to Council by a real estate agency. This is common practice when potential strategic land purchases present themselves in the market. A Council decision then confirmed the purchase. There was good interest in the property and Council was one of a number of bidders.”
It is noteworthy that the Colliers valuation report forecast how much money the council could make by subdividing the land for housing after a five year period (meaning 2024 – this year) , concluding that the property could be divided into 143 sections at $315,000 per section, plus a “high density lot” of 13,500 square metres worth $3,300,000 bringing in a total of over $48 million.
The original agent who sold the land, Dave Fea, has told Crux this week that the subdivision sale values today would be “ a lot higher.”
What happened next.
Crux asked QLDC this week if they carried out the remedial work on the house, recommended by the pre-purchase inspection, that was needed to bring the watertightness issues either under control or at least be better understood.
Crux: Did the council carry out the remedial measures recommended in the pre-purchase inspection report or not? Full details please when was the work was done, by whom and at what cost?
QLDC: “No, as the building was never intended for reuse, as per our previous responses.”
Three years passed where the land and house were basically left abandoned apart from regular security visits and the grass getting mowed.
But then QLDC appeared to suddenly decide that the leaky house, by now in even worse condition than when the council bought it, should be the focus of a new $3.6 million project that was called Wingfield Park with the “Wingfield Community House” as the main attraction.
Over $200,000 was spent on the council applying to itself for resource consent for Wingfield Park. Work on the detailed application started in mid 2021 with every aspect of the Wingfield Community House documented in detail. There was to be a new road to the house, a new car park, a playground and the Community House itself.
Resource consent for Wingfield Park/Community House was granted by QLDC, to itself, on Friday, January 21, 2022.
The council even invited over 300 members of the local community to visit the dilapidated Walker house for an Open Day without revealing that 13 days earlier they’d been told that the toxic and potentially dangerous Stachybotrys had contaminated the house. It’s a greenish-black mould that usually grows on fibreboard and GIB.
It took official information requests from Crux to discover that the council knew about the mould before inviting the public. We then asked them why they didn’t cancel the Open Day. This was their reply:
“Public health and safety is the highest priority and we would never knowingly invite the community into an unsafe environment.
“While we were aware of the mould, we did not know the extent of the issue at the time of the open house as all of the linings were still intact.
“The full extent of the issue became clearer once cladding and linings were removed to assess the building further for redevelopment following the direction of Council to explore using it as an interim community facility.”
So - that was the end of Wingfield Park?
It does seem as though the entire 2021/2022 $3.6 million Wingfield Park project was built around the original Walker house that QLDC had paid top dollar for in 2019, in spite of the leaky building report,.
Then QLDC did no remedial building work as per the report’s recommendations.
Even more bizarre is the media release on October 11, 2022 that announced the death of the Wingfield Park project.
The council manager in charge of the “Wingfield” project, Simon Battrick blamed the cancellation of all work on “previously unknown issues.”
Here’s part of that media release:
"Incoming Councillors will be asked to consider a fresh approach to the development of a new community facility at 516 Frankton-Ladies Mile Highway in the coming months after a detailed assessment of a former residential building on the property revealed previously unknown issues."
“QLDC Sport and Recreation Manager Simon Battrick said toxic mould had been uncovered behind the building’s cladding which would require its replacement along with all windows and interior framing panels.”
“This would add a significant remediation cost over and above the $3.66m budget allocated by Councillors in February to retrofit the existing building and create an interim community centre while we developed plans for a brand new multi-purpose facility,” he said. “
It’s very hard, if not impossible, to attach credibility to the council’s claim that they did not know about the state of the Walker house. They were told clearly by the 2019 pre-purchase report, then failed to follow the necessary remedial work, and then the same engineer discovered Stachybotrys before the community Open Day.
After Wingfield Park.
In spite of the constant statements from QLDC about 516 Ladies Mile being a strategic land purchase there seems to be no evidence of any strategy after the collapse of the Wingfield Community House and Park project.
The council did make $200 a day by renting the toxic house to the police for occasional training exercises, but apart from that it’s been all cost.
In October last year the QLDC announced that they would miss all of their own deadlines in deciding the future of 516 Ladies Mile, kicking the decision down the road to March 2024 for more community feedback.
Then in December 2023 four former mayors came out publicly against plans for a grand new Council HQ in the Queenstown CBD saying it should instead be built on this land at 516 Ladies Mile.
In the council’s own responses to similar criticism of their Project Manawa plans they argue that moving out of the CBD would be just as expensive as they don’t own any land in Frankton, and would therefore have to buy land.
Clearly, they had forgotten about their $14 million patch of land at 516 Ladies Mile.
What happens next will be interesting and might provide a clue as to what this entire episode actually was designed to achieve.
Frankly we here at Crux can’t make any sense out of it.
A “strategic land acquisition with no strategy” seems to be the closest we can get.