“Challenging, demanding and rewarding” – an apt description of Glyn Lewer’s first few months as Queenstown Lakes District Mayor.
Elected in October 2022 Mayor Lewers has inherited the aftermath of the Covid pandemic with major issues challenging the tourism and hospitality industries, in particular critical staff shortages and a severe lack of rental accommodation.
“My immediate focus is on accommodation and finding ways to resolve the problem in the short term but the council is bound by legislative requirements which makes it difficult to put short term solutions in place. So we are really looking medium to long term and awaiting an action report from a taskforce set up by the previous council as part of the Queenstown Lakes Homes and Strategy Action Plan.”
The recent outcome of an Environment Court case between the council and Airbnb has not helped the accommodation situation.
Despite the council trying to significantly restrict the number of days houses can be used for residential visitor accommodation the Court made it simpler for homeowners allowing them to put their houses on Airbnb for up to 90 days and only having to register their intention with the council, where previously a resource consent was required.
Mayor Lewers is disappointed at the outcome but accepts that under the Resource Management Act there is not enough evidence to correlate housing issues with the supply of visitor accommodation.
“While solving the big picture is a job for central government and council will continue to lobby the Minister of Housing for positive change, housing remains a very real issue we need to address in the Queenstown Lakes.”
He says while there is no easy answer they have been working at a district level to help alleviate the situation.
An example is the establishment of the Queenstown Housing Trust requiring large-scale developers to contribute money or land to provide affordable housing.
“Most recently we have proposed a plan change to formalise inclusionary zoning provisions that would ensure all developers contribute towards affordable housing. This will be a first in Aotearoa New Zealand if successful.”
Mayor Lewers pointed to another recent decision by the council to remove an encumbrance that has been preventing approval of a loan to progress the Tewa Banks affordable housing development by the Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust (QLCHT) in Arrowtown.
Plans have been developed for 68 houses and he says the council felt strongly about removing the encumbrance so that the much needed housing can go ahead as quickly as possible.
Hand-in hand with the lack of accommodation is the lack of staff and he says it is important for Queenstown’s reputation to attract quality staff.
“Obviously there is a reputational risk not just for Queenstown and Wanaka but for the whole of New Zealand. If we can’t provide a service to a certain standard that diminishes the whole product throughout the country.”
“Other countries like Australia and Canada are actively promoting themselves as great places to come and work while New Zealand seems to be sitting on the sideline thinking people will turn up anyway but we need to be much more proactive.”