Community board celebrates Mt Iron deal, looks to future

Wanaka Community Board members (from left, back) Calum Macleod, Chris Hadfield, Ed Taylor, Barry...
Wanaka Community Board members (from left, back) Calum Macleod, Chris Hadfield, Ed Taylor, Barry Bruce, (front) Quentin Smith, Niamh Shaw (with daughter Saoirse) and Jude Battson celebrate the end of 2021 and the Mt Iron purchase agreement. PHOTO: MARJORIE COOK
The Wanaka Community Board is celebrating the town’s biggest Christmas present — the 250m-high Mt Iron and about 100ha of reserve.

The "once-in-a-generation" chance to transfer ownership was confirmed by the Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Cleugh family on December 16.

Wanaka’s popular mount used to be on the outskirts of town but is fast becoming the heart of the resort.

The mountain reserve is the culmination of a vision expressed by the late Laurie Cleugh in the 1990s to create a legacy for the town, board member Jude Battson said last month.

Ms Battson recalled that soon after she was first elected to the board in 1998, Laurie Cleugh had spoken to the board about his vision for creating a housing and reserve legacy.

"I have a tear in my eye. I miss the guy," she said.

"He was delightful ... He expressed to the board his vision and sadly he died. But it happened. It would be great if he was here to see it."

The transfer includes 67ha on the north, west and southern flanks of Mt Iron, plus 27ha on the neighbouring Little Mt Iron.

Runners tackle the Mt Iron Challenge in 2017.
Runners tackle the Mt Iron Challenge in 2017.
The deal is commercially sensitive but the land is valued at millions of dollars.

The land will be held in perpetuity for the community and protected from further development.

Where funding will come from is also commercially sensitive, but Wanaka does have $9million left in the Scurr Heights fund, which was created by the sale of nearly 11ha of council-owned land for $15.6million in 2016.

The Scurr Heights land has now been privately developed for housing.

The council has spent $6million of the Scurr Heights fund on building Wanaka’s new aquatic centre and earmarked another $1million for the new Luggate Hall, which is under construction.

It is not known yet whether the Mt Iron purchase will drain the Scurr Heights fund completely or whether other council funds will be used.

Information about the purchase price and budget structure would be released "in due course in line with due diligence work," council communications officer Sam White said last week.

As soon as the agreement was announced, elected community board members were receiving suggestions — some tongue-in-cheek — for things such as observatories, walking and biking tracks, ecosanctuaries, zip lines and lifts to the top for senior citizens.

Board members said the community response showed the purchase was very much supported.

A reserve management plan would now be developed, and that would involve community consultation.

Mt Iron provides expansive views of Wanaka and surrounds. PHOTOS: KERRIE WATERWORTH & ODT FILES...
Mt Iron provides expansive views of Wanaka and surrounds. PHOTOS: KERRIE WATERWORTH & ODT FILES/SUPPLIED
"Nothing is off the table and nothing is on," Cr Calum Macleod said.

"Built form would be minimal, to say the least. Literally, all the finances we still need to work through the system. It will not have a direct impact on rating," he said.

Board member Ed Taylor said Mt Iron had been keeping generations of walkers fit and gave the community many alternatives for future recreation.

Board chairman Barry Bruce confirmed people should not rush out and immediately begin running and biking over the Cleughs’ land, as due diligence and transfers had not been completed.

It was too early to say what would happen to the woolshed at the foot of the mountain.

"There are still operational things that will be decided down the track," he said.

Cr Quentin Smith said he was incredibly excited such a significant and much-loved mountain was coming into public ownership.

"Opportunities like this come along maybe once in a generation. With increasing development pressure around the district, reserves and open spaces have never been so important for community wellbeing," he said.

Ms Battson said the Mt Iron reserve would have something for everybody.

It was the town’s mountain and the community now had a duty to be its guardian, she said.

The mountain would also protect the entrance to Wanaka and give a soft edge to ongoing development, she said.

Mt Iron was bought from Welshman Bertie Reece by brothers Laurie and Brian Cleugh in the 1960s as a farm.

The present owner is Allenby Farms, a company associated with Laurie Cleugh’s son Lynden Cleugh.

The council and Allenby Farms Ltd spent about 18 months negotiating the agreement.

Lynden Cleugh said his family had long seen themselves as guardians of a very special property.

"We’ve resisted many approaches to develop and commercialise Mt Iron since Laurie and Brian Cleugh bought it in the early 1960s as a farming operation.

"Since then we’ve spent countless hours keeping the property free of weeds and wilding pines while maintaining a long-term vision that Mt Iron should at some point be managed on behalf of the community," he said.

"That way everyone can enjoy this special place in the middle of our growing town.

"We purchased Little Mt Iron in 2017 with the sole purpose of it becoming a public reserve along with the main property. It’s a special gem just waiting to be discovered.

"We’re very excited to finally announce this legacy acquisition for the community and thank QLDC staff for their shared vision."

Allenby Farms Ltd also indicated an intention to create a legacy for Wanaka in a submission to the proposed district plan in 2017.

The Cleugh family retains 22ha of the former farm.

Mountain biking is not permitted on the Cleugh property or on the separate Department of Conservation reserve and 4.5km walking track.

The council and Doc are now negotiating to transfer the Doc reserve into the council-owned reserve.


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