Wanaka's pause for thought

This park on the Wanaka lakefront remains for now. Photo: Mark Price
This park on the Wanaka lakefront remains for now. Photo: Mark Price
Finally, common sense has prevailed. The Wanaka Community Board has ''paused'' its plan to let loose the diggers on the redevelopment of a long, narrow stretch of lakefront between the CBD, or town centre by another name, and Lake Wanaka - the area known to planners and designers as stage two or South Beach.

The pause will allow a rethink - more talk, more lines on paper; hopefully a more holistic approach to Wanaka's best urban feature, the interface between the CBD and the lakefront. And, a few loud voices in the community can take credit for the pause.

The problem was the masterplan for stage two of the lakefront was developed in isolation from another masterplan not yet complete - the one for the town's CBD. The realisation there was a problem began as a public outcry over the lack of consideration given to the future of the town's millennium trail - that folksy, community-built tile pathway along the lakefront tracing events in history that distracts tourists for a moment from the scenery and their cellphones.

From there, the concern grew, fuelled by the Queenstown Lakes District Council's road closure experiment giving over parts of Ardmore and Helwick Sts to pedestrians and closing lakeside car parks for a few days.

As well, the part of 2016's draft lakefront development plan showing a long string of ''car parking potential'' along Ardmore St, making up for lost parks elsewhere, disappeared from the final design when it was finally revealed to the public for the first time earlier this month.

Then it began to sink in that if stage two of the lakefront redevelopment went ahead as planned, and the car parks were dispensed with, the CBD might be affected. A survey of retailers' takings during the experimental road (and car park) closure confirmed retailers' fears.

Wisely, the WCB last week decided to accept there was potential for a serious problem. The mystery is why it should have taken the best part of four years, to the point where contractors were fuelling their diggers, for the WCB to come to the realisation that changing the lakefront cannot be done in isolation from the CBD.

The current board is due some sympathy, having inherited a situation that began before its time, in 2015, when the initial decision was made to redevelop the lakefront. By May 2016, the public had already had its say, and the draft plan was on display. It took until April this year for the final design to be made public.

Work went ahead on stage - a new sealed car park with toilets and rubbish bins, and the closure of part of the lakefront to vehicles - and was greeted with general acceptance. There were grumbles from some about being barred from driving to their favourite lakeside spot, but appreciation from others that their view of the lake was no longer obscured by the back end of scores of camper vans.

Then came stage two, and the pause, and the opportunity for more input from the public. In hindsight, it was an inefficient decision to redevelop the lakefront of a lakeside town without including the lakeside town and while some loud voices from the community have rescued the situation, there is still the mystery of why they, or the WCB, or the business community, or the Queenstown Lakes District Council did not see the problem much, much sooner.

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