Mutiny in the south: Wānaka's plan to break free from Queenstown
A quiet revolution has begun in small town Wānaka with growing support for a plan to break free from domineering neighbour Queenstown.
Self-employed mechanic Dean Rankin has initiated the move through a petition calling for the Local Government Commission to review the structure of the Queenstown Lakes District Council.
He needed the support of at least 10 per cent of local voters, or about 1500 people, to push for change and had hit 1200 on Wednesday morning.
Rankin would like to see the Upper Clutha area, including Wānaka, Hawea, Luggate and Makarora, establish its own council.
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“We all feel that all our rates money is going over the hill [to Queenstown] and not a lot is coming back,” he said.
His concerns ranged from a lack of progress on seemingly simple matters such as footpath repairs to suspected corruption within the council.
“I honestly don’t trust any of the figures we are given.”
The Upper Clutha region is undergoing massive change and development, and Rankin is concerned about the lack of planning and infrastructure.
“I’m just really worried about protecting it for my kids, and their kids as well.”
Key points in the petition are that the council is ineffective and undemocratic, that rates income is not fairly distributed and Wānaka residents do not feel represented at the council table.
“A High Court judicial review this year showed that QLDC had not consulted lawfully with Upper Clutha residents over the critical question of Wānaka tourism/airport expansion, further eroding trust in QLDC,” it says.
The Upper Clutha area has a population of about 13,000. The Kaikōura and McKenzie District Councils are the smallest local authorities in New Zealand with populations of about 4000.
It is not the first time the people of Wānaka have considered breaking away from Queenstown.
In 2013, a Facebook page entitled Respect Wānaka gained considerable support, as Upper Clutha residents felt the town’s needed were not given as much attention as Queenstown’s.
In 2015, Queenstown Lakes councillor Calum MacLeod, now the deputy mayor, compared Queenstown to England and Wānaka to Scotland.
Himself a native of Scotland who has lived in New Zealand for 25 years, MacLeod said he had long believed Wānaka had similarities to his home country.
“We're over the hill [from Queenstown] and basically are always making noises about seceding from the Union, but when push comes to shove we don't really want it.
"Queenstown are the English – the bigger powerhouse driver of the whole region and basically want everyone to shut up and do what they're told.”
On Wednesday MacLeod said he supported having the conversation, but believed the district was stronger together.
Setting up a new council would involve a huge amount of work around policy and planning, and the operational costs would be formidable.
“If you look at the amount council is spending on water and infrastructure here. It’s massive. There’s no way we [Wānaka] could afford that.”
Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult declined to comment.