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Protecting Wanaka’s commercial centre was a major factor in declining Silverlight Studio Ltd the right to let its proposed 300 workers’ accommodation units to short-term visitors if the units were not being used.

A fast-track panel decision released last week Friday allows film industry workers to live at Wanaka’s Silverlight Studios complex, but not visitors.

The $280million Silverlight Studios development will be built near Wanaka Airport on Corbridge Farm Estates land.

The developer has paid a deposit for the land and the contract is unconditional.

The panel said using the buildings for visitor accommodation was “not appropriate as part of the film studios project” and could create a resort-style destination attracting large numbers of winter and summer visitors.

The panel stressed the Queenstown Lakes district plan policies specifically directed decision-makers to focus on protecting Wanaka’s existing economic, commercial, civic and cultural town centre and avoid undermining the town centre’s role.

“If in addition to accommodation, hospitality, conference rooms and retail was provided on site there would be no reason for visitors to leave the site to utilise the Wanaka town centre and surrounding towns.

“The [Silverlight] site would potentially become a destination in itself, with a high degree of self-sufficiency, functioning like a resort. That would be in marked contrast to the film production and educational character of the site that was considered appropriate and approved as part of the film studios project,” the panel said.

The panel of four was chaired by Auckland resource management expert Heather Ash.

The decision was released by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) last Friday.

Silverlight Studios spokesman Mike Wallis said, when contacted last week, he was thrilled to get the consent.

“It has been a massive effort from a massive team,” he said.

His business partners are Jonno Harding, of Auckland, and Ra Vincent, who is working on a film project in Los Angeles.

The visitor accommodation issue would not hold him back from working on the next phase of the project, but it was too soon to comment on what it meant, Mr Wallis said.

The next phase included refining detailed designs, information technology and infrastructure.

“That’s the main focus, planning, a contracting programme, setting deadlines, scheduling. Getting the job done,” Mr Wallis said.

Those opposing visitor accommodation included the Mt Barker Residents and Ratepayers Association, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

The council said short-term visitor accommodation would not significantly benefit housing supply.

It was inconsistent with the rural zone and the council’s spatial plan and unrelated to the primary use of the site, as a film production business, the submitters said.

The consents and conditions for Silverlight’s film studio (granted December 8) and workers’ accommodation (granted February 18) are on the Environmental Protection Authority website.

Conditions

Silverlight workers accommodation:

  • Film studios must be built first
  • Up to 300 units /314 bedrooms
  • Units provided in 2027, 2029 and 2030
  • Housing 20% to 30% of estimated workforce/film students/trainees
  • No visitor accommodation