Queenstown revamp celebrated, but union points to rental housing crisis

The union says Queenstown was failing to show proper manakitanga.
The union says Queenstown was failing to show proper manakitanga. Photo credit: RNZ

By Tess Burnton for RNZ

Queenstown's multi-million dollar revamped streets were officially opened with protesters present, but not the prime minister.

The government earmarked $85 million to shovel-ready projects in Queenstown in 2020 including its town centre upgrade with the Queenstown Lakes District Council stumping up the rest of the funding.

The streets upgrade was aimed at transforming the town centre into an inviting, family friendly and accessible space for visitors and residents to enjoy.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins was originally meant to speak at the opening on Friday, but his flight - among several others - was cancelled due to heavy fog.

Instead, a small group of protesters took to the stage before the event on Beach Street officially kicked off to raise awareness about the rental housing crisis.

Unite Union Otago-Southland organiser Simon Edmunds said Queenstown was seeking to attract much needed workers without having the necessary accommodation to house them.

Queenstown was failing to show proper manakitanga and duty of care to its migrant workers, he said.

"We like to call workers in this sort of position heroes in times of difficulty like Covid. But when it comes to actually keeping roofs over their heads or even just making sure their employers or landlords aren't blatantly breaking the law, then we don't seem to offer any support at all.

"It's like they arrive in New Zealand to help us out and then we throw them to the wolves."

They had hoped to raise these concerns with the prime minister at today's event, but Edmunds said they were speaking out for people too afraid to risk their jobs or accommodation.

"Today is celebrating the opening of a street lined with golden lamp posts set with $20k pounamu bricks in a town where people are sleeping in their cars and treated like dirt by some of the employers and landlords in this town."

'Incredibly proud' of project

Guests gather on Beach Street to view the improvements.
Guests gather on Beach Street to view the improvements. Photo credit: Via RNZ

The streetscape project was initially expected to take about a year, but that has been hampered by staff sickness, supply chain issues and worker shortages.

Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Glyn Lewers said construction started in early 2021.

"While it took a bit longer than initially anticipated, we're so incredibly proud of the result.

"You only have to walk around these streets on any given day to see countless locals and visitors enjoying safer, more inviting and accessible spaces."

He acknowledged for the past few years, the town has been a maze of detours and disruptions, causing headaches for retailers.

"I'd like to thank the businesses, many of whom join us this morning who have been directly affected by the challenges presented during construction.

"Thank you for your patience, your openness to tell us when you weren't feeling so patient, and your perseverance in maintaining business activity in the face of uncertainty."