Whisky distillery would reinvigorate valley, residents say

Prominent Cardrona Valley families lent their support to a proposed whisky distillery at a hearing in Wanaka yesterday, saying the development would inject life into the village.

Retired Cardrona farmers and ski industry entrepreneurs John and Mary Lee and sixth-generation Cardrona farmer Tim Scurr said the distillery - featuring tastings, tours and a museum - would bring considerable social and economic benefits.

The trio spoke at a hearing to consider a resource consent application to the Queenstown Lakes District Council for the development, which would be built opposite the entrance to Cardrona Alpine Resort.

Wanaka woman Desiree Reid's company Zescent Group Ltd gained the backing of the Cardrona community for the project.

Mr Scurr, chairman of the Cardrona Heritage Trust, which would have control over the museum exhibits, said Cardrona was once a ''thriving, self-contained destination'' and needed more year-round employment.

As the hub of the Upper Clutha skifields district, it ''shouldn't be treated as a backwash in some isolated place where the average traveller wouldn't take the time to visit''.

The Upper Clutha Environmental Society's (UCES) submission that the whisky distillery development would be too visual was ''a nonsense'', Mr Scurr said.

Mrs Lee agreed the development would ''inject life into the village''.

''I've heard numerous stories of people looking for things in Cardrona and they end up in Queenstown.''

The museum would be a valuable resource and new digital methods of displaying material would give a ''real personal touch'' to the stories of the valley.

Mr Lee spoke of Cardrona's rich gold-mining history and the need to preserve that information.

Farming was ''going backwards'' and the distillery and museum attraction would be a ''wonderful thing'' to reinvigorate the valley and ensure much needed social services survived in the small rural settlement.

Ms Reid's planner, Scott Edgar, considered the development a discretionary activity, which differed from council planner Craig Barr's view it held a non-complying status.

However, all parties agreed that should a discretionary activity consent be required, the development still satisfied the threshold tests of the Resource Management Act.

The discrepancy might therefore end up being a ''technicality'' that would have little bearing on the decision, commissioner Andrew Henderson said.

Mt Cardrona Station earlier withdrew a submission against the application on the basis a condition be included to address any odour from the distillery.

Only the UCES remains in opposition to the application but it did not attend the hearing.

It believed the development would have less adverse visual effect if sited on a lower terrace.

However, that alternative location was in an area susceptible to liquefaction and was likely to have been disturbed by gold-mining, Mr Edgar noted.

It was therefore not appropriate, given the potentially hazardous nature of the goods being produced and stored on the distillery site.

Ms Reid told the hearing she was considering establishing a small-scale malting plant in the future, which would mean the distillery could use barley grown in the district.

Commissioners Mr Henderson and Lyal Cocks will issue their decision within 15 working days.

lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz