A community group has warned of a pending uproar over ambitious plans to turn Wānaka into a “movie town”.
Silverlight Studios plans to establish a film studio and tourism activities on 322ha adjacent to State Highway 6 about 7km east of Wānaka. The development will include a sound stage lot with up to 10 sound stages.
The project is reportedly budgeted at close to $300 million. An Economic Impact Assessment report says construction of the studio may well create “just under 2300 jobs”.
“This application, if approved, will have the same sort of impact as that of CIAL (Christchurch International Airport) building an international jet airport at Tarras. If that goes ahead, the Tarras community will be destroyed forever. Will the same thing happen to us?” a submission to the Environmental Protection Authority’s Expert Consenting Panel from the Mt Barker Residents Association reads.
“Silverlight seems to believe that the Upper Clutha community will want this development, based on the number of jobs it plans to bring to the Upper Clutha Basin. There is no shortage of jobs in the Upper Clutha; in fact the opposite is true - there is a shortage of skilled workers and houses for them to live in.
“If, despite our genuine and serious concerns, the application is to be approved, we need to know how Silverlight intends to mitigate the impact of an additional 4000-plus people moving to the Upper Clutha. We currently don’t have enough accommodation or infrastructure to cope with such a huge increase.”
“If this application goes ahead with approval for any tourism related activities, the uproar from the local community will be significant.
The submission noted Wānaka was a lifestyle town.
“People grew up here or moved here because they like the lifestyle elements. Allowing a Universal Studios-like town to be built at Corbridge Downs will change the nature of Wānaka forever. It will become a movie town. To date the Wānaka community has not been allowed to have any say about that proposed change.”
The Association highlighted Wānaka’s community spirit – referring to the opposition to a proposal to scrap its Community Board, a call for the town to break away from Queenstown Lakes and the successful legal opposition by the Wānaka Shareholders Group against efforts to transfer to lease to the town’s airport to the district council to Queenstown Airport Corporation.
But the association has taken a pragmatic view of the likelihood of the project failing to win approval. It looked forward to considering the evolution of plans pertaining to the core creative enterprise proposed.
“At a minimum, approval of the application must be on the condition that Silverlight pays for the increased infrastructure costs and provides means of active transport for walkers and cyclists connected to the planned Upper Clutha network… to gain social license the commitments Silverlight needs to make to the local community should be far greater, permanently structured and far more closely aligned with the collective values of the community that currently lives here.
The Association said it understood there may be benefits in diversifying the South Island’s economy, but “to us it is only the actual creative enterprise associated with film production that has any positive value to our community”.
A bevy of organisations have asked Silverlight to provide a 2.9km shared pathway from the intersection of highways 6 and 84 to the studios, as a condition of an Expert Consenting Panel granting any fast-track consent development proceeding.
The Upper Clutha Tracks Trust said initial conversations with Silverlight Studios and their advisers has been positive.
Simon Telfer of Active Transport Wānaka said safe and climate friendly walking and biking was a priority for the Wānaka community.
“There’s now an expectation that developers enhance the town’s active transport, both within their development and connecting to the wider network. It’s all part of the social licence of doing business in our town.”
The Upper Clutha Environmental Society “in general supports” the Silverlight application because it believes the social and economic benefits that will accrue to the district, especially in terms of employment and economic diversity, far outweigh adverse landscape effects.
The submission, in the name of secretary Julian Haworth, says in making its assessment it took into account the 35-residence subdivision already consented to on the subject site “which itself will have significant adverse effects on landscape values”.
“However the Society assesses the Silverlight subject site to be of strategic importance to the sustainable management of the Upper Clutha in that it is immediately adjacent to outstanding natural landscape-the Clutha River Corridor. This must be taken into account when consideration is given to granting consent.”