SIT get it right in Queenstown

SOUTHERN FOCUS

TIM SHADBOLT
Last updated 08:28 18/02/2014

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O nce again the Southern Institute of Technology has made a brilliant strategic move with the construction of a large new luxury student apartment complex right next door to its campus in Queenstown. I was invited to stay a few nights to engage in a little quality control.

I know, I know, I seem to get all the tough jobs.

Of course, I was interested in a lot more than student accommodation. Queenstown is a world famous resort town. It's a fantastic magnet that attracts more than a million tourists every year to the southern region. If you simply read the court pages, you would think it was a violent, crazy, party town.

It's true that, on average, 10 patients a week are treated at Frankton's hospital as a result of alcohol-fuelled bashings or over- consumption. However, if you divide these incidents by a million visitors it's probably no worse than any other New Zealand city.

It seems that every region needs a party town. When I was a teenager in the North Island, it was "The Mount", a seaside resort on the coast of Tauranga. There were no tourists. It was a Kiwi party town so there were massive brawls, knifings and regular riots. It made Queenstown look like a teddy bears' picnic. I was at The Mount recently on New Year's Day and there were barricades everywhere manned by hundreds of police in riot gear. I wouldn't like to see that happen in Queenstown.

When I was in Queenstown last week, in between slaving away on quality control, I walked along the foreshore between the main jetty and the Bathhouse Cafe.

There were hundreds of healthy, happy young people everywhere speaking Spanish, French, German, Russian and occasionally English tinged with an Aussie accent. They were gathered around illegal fires, illegally drinking in public, legally playing guitars and walking on tightropes illegally stretched between trees. It was a scene of peace, love, multicultural harmony and freedom.

OK, so after midnight Queenstown may turn into a psychopathic pumpkin but now that tourism earns this country more than dairy farming does, I would like to congratulate the council and the police on viewing the scene through their "Nelson's Eye".

For those who don't follow history, this method of problem- solving was developed after the Battle of Copenhagen. Lord Nelson was ordered to retreat so he raised his telescope to his blind eye and truthfully claimed he could see no such signal. He carried on fighting and won the battle.

The alternative of mass arrests for petty breaches would have been tragic.

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And how, you may ask, can I afford a week's holiday in mid- February? The answer is that this council is working incredibly well. To be honest, when councillor Elder, Cr Buck and Cr Dean all retired in 2013, I was really worried.

Thankfully, Richard King and our senior staff have carried on working with professional efficiency, and our council chairmen in particular have really put their shoulders to the wheel.

Cr Boniface and I have had our moments but he's not the kind of character who will stand in a corner and sulk.

As our chairman of finance, he will probably deliver the lowest rate increase of any city in New Zealand. And he won't do it by cheating.

New Plymouth raised loans to reduce its rate increase but this form of financial cannibalism inevitably returns to bite future councillors.

Cr Boniface has also resisted the temptation to eat into our reserves. As a responsible council, we can't afford to leave ourselves too exposed.

Who knows what other legislation is waiting around the corner to ambush us. Freshwater management, $1 million? Stormwater treatment, $10 million? The digitalisation of all council records, $1 million?

Cr Boniface is well aware of these potential threats and at the other end of the spectrum, our chairman of works, the energetic Cr Thomas, is determined to upgrade as many of our roads as possible before central government slashes our roading subsidies.

Meanwhile my hard-working deputy mayor and chairman of regulatory services committee, Cr Ludlow, is wrestling with an incredibly complex sewerage and noise situation at Kennington.

If you believe councillors are on an easy wicket and do little more than wander around looking for a trough to stick their snouts into, then you should attend public meetings at Kennington.

Only Cr Ludlow has the resilience and dogged determination to front up to meeting after meeting after meeting to try and resolve the conflict.

Finally, Cr Abbott, as chairman of our community services committee, is doing a brilliant job with pools, libraries, buses and housing care for the elderly.

He has also made an indirect contribution to the local economy through his association with Bupa.

I now believe 2014 will prove to be a productive yet fiscally prudent year for council.

Tim Shadbolt is Invercargill mayor.

- The Southland Times

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