Wanaka residents have been mulling over suggested town centre master plans for more than 20 years but commitment to action has not been forthcoming.

A voluntary community group has now stepped up to drive the project forward after the Queenstown Lakes District Council decided in 2019 not to endorse the master plan being discussed at that time.

Urban designer Garth Falconer and Wanaka retailer Amanda Dorset are among the volunteers keen to get the ball rolling again, as the town’s population continues to grow.

They presented the group’s work timeline to the Wanaka Community Board last week and asked the board to consider adopting the finalised programme when it is ready.

“What we require of the community board is your endorsement and support of this project as we put it together and help us make connections with those special stakeholders groups.

“We would like you to be part of the engagement process and review the plans as we go, and at the end of the year, hopefully adopt the master plan,” Mr Falconer said.

Board members did not immediately commit.

Councillor Niamh Shaw asked how the group would engage with people.

“The steering group does seem quite heavy with the interests of the town centre .. how do you plan to actually bring the wider community along on this journey?”

Board member Jude Battson said she had worked on many other Wanaka town centre plans and discovered how hard it was to get people to buy into the consultation process.

Taking the slow road . . . Intregrated planning for Wanaka’s town centre has been in the pipeline for 20 years. PHOTO: MARJORIE COOK

Once finished, feedback had been “quite reactive” so the plans had “kind of sat on the shelf”.

She suggested wide consultation and a joint workshop before the board decided whether to agree to the group’s requests.

Mr Falconer said group members represented retailers, schools, property owners, designers and Ignite Wanaka members.

It was self-funded and wanted a town centre master plan adopted into the council work programme.

The group had talked to people working on transport network initiatives, he said.

It was proposing a principle-based plan “to take into account the fast-growing, dynamic community with certain divisions”, with short-term ( three to five-year) and long-term projects, costings and staging.

Town centre planning timeline

2002: Wanaka community sought a high-quality and functional town centre during the Wanaka 2020 community planning exercise.

2007: Community repeated request during a Wanaka Structure Plan review.

2009: Plans drawn up after community consultation did not proceed.

Town centre projects continued to evolve independently.

2016: More calls for town centre integrated planning while council considered the lakefront development project.

2018: Consultation on draft town centre master plan.

2019: A group of Wanaka town centre retailers, business and property owners threatened legal action over consultation process. The Wanaka Community Board does not endorse the completed master plan and instead adopts a “single-stage business case” approach to integrated transport programmes.

May 12, 2022: Volunteers from a community-based town centre planning group present to the Wanaka Community Board.

The group hoped to release a draft master plan for consultation in July, review it in September and report back with a final plan to the community board next January or February.

Ms Dorset said the worst result would be to put in the effort, just to end up as other attempts had ended.

“The important thing is we have something very special happening in Wanaka. It’s hard to define but it is an exceptional community of people.

“It is what attracts Kiwis here and also people from overseas . It’s important to hold on to the essence of who we are.

“Unless the community helps feed into the process we will become just another glitzy resort town and I think that would be a shame,” she said.

Cr Shaw asked if council community general manager community services Thunes Cloete could help by defining the interface between the board and the community group.

Board chairman Barry Bruce agreed Mr Cloete’s input would be welcomed.

“I think we need to have a wider discussion as we go down the track on that one. I would like to continue the discussion with Thunes,” he said.