Thou­sands of work­ers have a home in Otago

A multi-lot ac­com­mo­da­tion block for work­ers had not stalled, says Cromwell Com­mu­nity Board chair­man Neil Gille­spie.

The Orchardist - - Recognised Seasonal Employer - Story and photo by Dianne King

“Re­vi­sions to the de­sign had been nec­es­sary and as soon as th­ese are fi­nalised con­sents would be un­der­way,” he said.

Last March the Cen­tral Otago District Coun­cil (CODC) sold 7ha of land near Cromwell for the pro­posed mul­ti­lot ac­com­mo­da­tion de­vel­op­ment, with the Cromwell Com­mu­nity Board in­sist­ing that any sale of that land had to be ap­pro­pri­ate for the town.

One con­di­tion of the sale agree­ment was that rea­son­able progress must be made on build­ing the ac­com­mo­da­tion within 18 months and also there should be a min­i­mum of 400 beds.

Cen­tral Otago’s es­ca­lat­ing cherry, pipfruit and grape ex­port earn­ers need sea­sonal work­ers by the thou­sands who in turn need some­where to live for the du­ra­tion of the three sec­tor har­vests. The lack of suit­able hous­ing has been a crit­i­cal is­sue for the past few sea­sons.

When the sale to an ex­pe­ri­enced de­vel­op­ment group was agreed to by the CODC, the pro­posed 700-bed hous­ing com­plex was seen as a ma­jor step to­wards al­le­vi­at­ing the district’s worker ac­com­mo­da­tion woes.

How­ever, in mid-Septem­ber Mr Gille­spie said that the project would not be com­pleted in time for the com­ing 2017-2018 har­vests. Pro­vid­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion comes in all sizes, from free­dom camp­ing, to camp­ing sites on some or­chards, hos­tels, up-to-date worker ac­com­mo­da­tion and even an his­toric ho­tel.

Many or­chardists pro­vide worker ac­com­mo­da­tion on their prop­er­ties and at Cromwell Si­mon and Trudy Webb added units for up to 15 ca­sual staff last year.

Fur­ther down in the val­ley at Roxburgh a “grand old lady” the Com­mer­cial Ho­tel in Scot­land Street, pro­vides ac­com­mo­da­tion for up to100 sea­sonal work­ers and back­pack­ers. It is no longer a ho­tel but an ac­com­mo­da­tion com­plex.

The sub­stan­tial red brick build­ing, now known as the Com­mer­cial Ho­tel Back­pack­ers, is 115 years old and was a tav­ern be­fore it was pur­chased by John and Pat Kerr 18 years ago.

Un­der their own­er­ship the his­toric build­ing has been up­dated.

“We’ve re­cently in­stalled a dou­ble set of wi-fi be­cause it’s most im­por­tant th­ese days with phones and tablets,” John said.

The 2017-2018 sea­son looks on track, ac­cord­ing to Si­mon Webb who said pol­li­na­tion of trees this sea­son had been spot on.

There have been no ma­jor frosts although when the apri­cots were in blos­som they did get a “tickle up” from a frost, but he did not frost-fight then or since.

The trees were well set up for the com­ing har­vest, and when asked about en­quiries for work­ers, his re­ply was: “There’s bucket loads of work­ers out there look­ing for a job.”

The Webbs have just fin­ished plant­ing 10ha in nec­tarines and peaches.

Hun­dreds of work­ers will be needed for the com­ing sea­son, from thin­ning through to pick­ing and with fur­ther ac­com­mo­da­tion pro­vided through­out the district, the area is sit­ting pretty for an­other suc­cess­ful har­vest.

JR Webb & Sons or­chard ac­com­mo­da­tion on the fam­ily prop­erty near Cromwell, with peach blos­som on the left.

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