Boult’s ambitious plan for Queenstown
New Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult has taken over the helm at a time when Queenstown’s stock is high.
Often described as the jewel in New Zealand’s tourism crown, it has a booming population, the second highest number of visitors in the country behind Auckland and has just become the second town (again behind Auckland) to hit a median house value just over $1 million.
But the growing pains are substantial. Housing is becoming unaffordable. Traffic is gridlocked at key times of the day. The resort is on the verge of running out of hotel beds and Lake Wakatipu, one of the town’s biggest attractions, is threatened by a revolting algae no one seems to know much about.
Boult is taking this in his stride. His response is measured but urgent.
‘‘There are multiple issues on multiple fronts to deal with so it requires quite a structured approach to figure out what’s most important,’’ he says.
He has described the new council under his leadership as the ‘‘can-do-council’’.
It is an approach that has served Boult well through a successful business career at Shotover Jet and on boards including Tourism New Zealand, the Civil Aviation Authority and the troubled Christchurch-based Stonewood Homes franchise.
Last year he was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to tourism and the community.
Throughout he has maintained his base at his Lake Hayes home on the outskirts of Queenstown where he lives with wife Karen and where children James and Victoria have progressed through the local Wakatipu High School.
He has continued to serve on boards of local companies, including Real Journeys, and given his time to the community as a member of the Shaping Our Future steering group and helped establish Friends of Lake Hayes in 2007 to restore the lake’s water quality.
It is this compassion for his home that motivated him to stand for the mayoralty, he says.
‘‘I took it on because I’ve been here for 35 years and I really like living here and there’s some things happening that I wasn’t happy about. It was the challenge of saying ‘well, can I change things for the better?’’’
At the top of the list was Queenstown’s widely acknowledged housing affordability crisis, something that worries him.
He has already established a mayoral taskforce, led by new councillor John MacDonald, in an effort to find out why housing is so expensive in Queenstown.
‘‘I’d like to understand what the drivers are that are causing house prices to be so high here. Then, with that understanding, what do we do about it?’’
Next on the list is transport. ‘‘Flying into the airport the other day, seriously, it took me the fat end of three quarters of an hour to get in here which is just crazy.’’
Infrastructure is the key, and while he was pleased to be able to announce the beginning of construction of Hawthorne Drive – a long awaited bypass road around Frankton, he says it should have happened much earlier.
The other really big issue is public transport. and he has met with NZTA and the Otago Regional Council to scope out a process for a revitalised public transport system. Options include light rail, a waterborne system or a different form of bus.
‘‘I want a public transport system that is so good, so frequent and so affordable that it’s just the default method for getting around the district by locals and visitors alike, and I will be looking for a contribution from a visitor levy to help pay for that.’’
The visitor levy. It was key to Boult’s campaign and a focal point in this year’s election.
Boult is not fussed on how the levy will operate but is clear that for the Queenstown Lakes communities it is a ‘‘must have’’.
‘‘It’s unreasonable to think that our 20-odd thousand people that live here should pay for the 4.8 million visitor nights we had last year.’’
At the same time he is hoping to encourage more hotel development, as Queenstown increasingly finds itself putting out the ‘‘No Vacancy’’ signs.
Also of concern is the algae found in Lake Wanaka and now Lakes Wakatipu and Hawea known as lake snow or lake snot.
‘‘The trouble is I don’t know what’s caused it and I haven’t found anybody who does seem to know what’s caused it.’’
He is putting pressure on the Otago Regional Council to find some answers and do something about it and he wants them to be proactive.
As he works through his lists, Boult has two key goals in mind. If he achieves them, he will have completed the job he came to do, he says.
‘‘When I don’t have employers saying they can’t get people to come to town because it’s too expensive to live here. Secondly, when I see a fabulous public transport system that is recognised as the best in any resort area in the world.’’ Ambitious? Yes, he says.
But: ‘‘If you don’t have a dream, you don’t have a plan and you never know where you’re going.’’
Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult overlooking central Queenstown.