Gondola consent hangs in balance

International investors may be lining up behind ambitious plans to expand skifield operations on the Pisa Range, but those responsible for deciding whether a $14 million Cardrona Valley gondola goes ahead remain uncertain whether it will have any economic spinoffs for the district.

Cardrona Valley skifield pioneers the Lee family want to build New Zealand's first alpine gondola, but independent commissioners Jane Taylor and Christine Kelly are uncertain whether the proposed $14 million gondola will provide ‘‘positive'' economic benefits to the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

After three months' deliberation the pair released a memorandum last week asking for expert evidence from an economist about four main points relating to the claimed positive economic effects associated with the gondola.

The Lees want to expand their Pisa Range skifield operations into the Roaring Meg Gully, south of the existing Snow Park and Snow Farm, and the commissioners want evidence provided about this potential growth.

More evidence detailing the positive effects arising from the construction and operational costs of the gondola are required, and how the local and wider community would benefit as a result of a forecast continued increase in local and international visitors to the skifield, as facilitated by the gondola.

‘‘If expert evidence was provided to substantiate the applicant's assertions . . . we anticipate that we would be comfortable to grant consent to this development,'' the commissioners' memorandum said.

Lakes Environmental Wanaka planning team leader Christian Martin has recommended the gondola should be granted consent, despite a lack of expert evidence to back the Lees' positive economic spin-offs.

Gondola applicant John Lee said he had several multimilliondollar investors ready to back skifield expansion plans, but these all hinged on the gondola's approval.

The memorandum was ‘‘very positive'', but he resented having to pay up to $15,000 for a ‘‘socalled expert to basically come up with an opinion based on assumptions''.

The application had cost more than $400,000 already and Mr Lee said he blamed a flawed consent process, which called for ‘‘overcautiousness'' on the behalf of the commissioners.

The memorandum said the applicants were entitled to a decision on the case as it stands, but the provision of the evidence would ‘‘make the difference between a reasonably persuasive case and a very finely balanced one''.

Mr Lee said it was his ‘‘own bloody-mindedness'' which meant he had not followed his planner Nicola Sedgewick's advice to provide the evidence in the first place, but he was mindful of initial costs in an increasingly expensive process.

Snow Park manager Sam Lee said skifields were hampered by the QLDC's district plan, which provided for ski area zones, but then made no provision ‘‘at all'' to develop safe access

‘‘We're like islands stuck on mountains and apart from gravel roads there is no vision, or alternative for us to develop safe, efficient and sustainable means of transporting people to skifields,'' he said.

The Lees said they had obtained quotes from economic consultants, but a final decision on whether they paid for an economic study would be made after further consultation with their lawyers and financial advisers.

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