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by Greta Yeoman

A group of Twizel business owners is proposing a housing scheme that is hoped will alleviate some of the housing pressures in the town.

Twizel Business Development Group member Amy Lamb said the group and its subsequent Mackenzie Housing Taskforce had identified housing as a major issue for employers, staff and the wider community.

“[We have] a problem of recruiting and retaining staff.”

So, the taskforce, which started about five months ago, was pitching constructing a multi-dwelling accommodation block in the town.

The houses would be leased long-term by a variety of businesses, for long-term employees.

“[We have] a problem of recruiting and retaining staff.”
– Amy Lamb

Mrs Lamb said the idea was similar to schemes in Wanaka and Queenstown, where businesses went in a ballot to lease a specific number of properties for their staff, who would pay the rent under the business’ lease and have guaranteed long-term accommodation.

The taskforce hoped to use Mackenzie District Council land already used by the community, but council chief executive Suzette van Aswegen was wary of the idea.

“If there is a group like this who wishes to use their own resources to set up a trust [and] use their own private land to develop, then it is their prerogative.

“The issue here is that they wish to obtain council land for free.”

Ms van Aswegen said the council was “very much aware” that finding accommodation for workers was an issue, but any work on this issue would be “best undertaken” after the council had completed its feasibility study into the future of the district.

Mackenzie District Council chief executive officer Suzette van Aswegen

While the town had plenty of holiday homes owned privately by families, the tourism boom and subsequent business growth across the Mackenzie had put pressure on Twizel and the district’s other towns due to the shortage of long-term rental properties, Ms Lamb said.

Much of the focus on housing issues had been about AirBnB or other short-term holiday accommodation, but Mrs Lamb – who also owns the Book Twizel holiday home accommodation business – did not believe a ban on these kind of rentals would actually improve the situation that much.

She said while a lot of the housing issues were similar across the Mackenzie, there were “subtle differences” between Twizel and Tekapo, because most of Twizel’s accommodation was still holiday homes owned and used by families, rather than standard short-term accommodation for visitors.

Mrs Lamb also disputed suggestions by the Mackenzie District Council that finding housing for workers was an issue for employers to deal with.

“It’s incredibly short-sighted,” she said of the council’s statement.

She said several councillors had suggested that it was a feasible option because it had historically been done on farms – but this was because it was simply about constructing a building on farmland, they did not have to acquire land and also had more capital available than a hairdresser or mechanic in a rural town.

While the housing taskforce did not see the housing scheme as a “silver bullet” that would solve all the housing issues in the town, it was a start.

“It’s a vital piece of the puzzle that is proven to work.”