Business South August 2022

26 | REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT Queenstown: Queenstown Lakes District Council “Will we ever go back to where we were in 2019? I think the recovery will be reasonably long.” Queenstown getting back on its feet Richard Loader Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult opening Fergs Bar in Queenstown. The opening of New Zealand’s borders has been a welcome relief for Queenstown, one of the districts hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, says Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult. “After two and a half years we’re very excited to see the borders open. Bookings are good for the ski and summer season. This will enable businesses to start to get back on their feet; they’ve done it really tough,” he says. The biggest hindrance to recovery at present is lack of staff. Prior to the pandemic Queenstown had around 5500 migrant workers and this has now dropped by around 50%. “They are the oil that makes the tourism industry work. We are highly engaged with government to see restrictions eased for migrant workers to come back into the country and this is set to happen in July.” He says $80m of funding obtained through the Government’s Shovel Ready project scheme has helped the district to weather the storm of the pandemic. Many of these projects are underway and will address district’s infrastructure needs for years to come. The Queenstown Town Centre Arterial is a key enabling project for downtown Queenstown removing general traffic from routing through the CBD, which will be prioritised for pedestrian and slower moving traffic vastly improving the town centre experience for locals and visitors. The Lakeview development is another significant project for the region. Melbourne-based developer Ninety Four Feet and Auckland-based investment company Augusta Capital will develop the land, previously home to cabins at the Queenstown Holiday Park. Mayor Jim says it will become a vibrant and complementary extension of the existing town centre offering residential buildings, hotels, co-working and co-living spaces, hospitality and retail, and a hot pools attraction. Construction will be phased over seven stages and is estimated to take more than ten years to complete. Council is also working on Project Manawa - te reo Māori for ‘heart’. The project will deliver a range of cultural and community facilities such as a community and arts spaces, a new dedicated library, a performance and visual arts centre, a town square, and commercial buildings, as well as the Council’s new administration building. A joint venture with Ngai Tahu Property has been proposed. When the pandemic first hit Mayor Jim says population predictions were dire for the region but in reality the opposite has happened with more people than projected pre-pandemic wanting to move there. It is one of New Zealand’s fastest growing regions. The average day population for the district is expected to increase from an estimated 67,129 people in 2019 to an estimated 87,888 in 2028. This is a growth rate of 3.2% per annum and consists of residents and visitors of all types. This of course brings its own challenges, he says, including housing, which has a current median value of $1.6m in the district making it the most expensive real estate in New Zealand. In the early days of his mayoralty, Mayor Jim and Council established the Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust to help provide affordable housing to those who work in the area. One innovation developed by the Trust is Secure Home, an assisted ownership programme aiming to provide decent and affordable housing and long-term housing stability and security in the same way that home ownership does. The land the homes are built on is leasehold and the Trust plans to build 1000 homes by 2028. This year construction will commence on 68 homes at Arrowtown. Mayor Jim predicts the region will experience recovery over a number of years. “Will we ever go back to where we were in 2019? I think the recovery will be reasonably long. Air travel is considerably more expensive and there is nervousness about long haul travel still. We will favour high value tourism while also realising that the backpacker of today is the high value tourist of tomorrow. Overall I’m pretty encouraged by the outlook for the region.”