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Environmentalists argue Peter Thiel’s luxury NZ lodge will ‘destroy’ lake landscape

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: robertharding/Alamy Stock Photo</span>
Photograph: robertharding/Alamy Stock Photo

Billionaire Peter Thiel is facing opposition from New Zealand environmental groups over his plans to build a luxury lodge in Wānaka, an alpine town on the South Island.

A company owned by Thiel had lodged a consent application for a sprawling lodge on his property, which would include a “pod” for the owner himself, water features and meditation space. The consent describes “a series of stand-alone buildings, including a lodge for visitor accommodation for up to 24 guests, accommodation pod for the owner, together with associated lodge management buildings, infrastructure, landscape treatment, water features and meditation space”. The earthworks required to build it would cover over 73,700m² of land.

Related: Billionaires' bolthole: how New Zealand became an escapee's paradise

Submissions on the consent closed last week – but some local environmental groups and residents are opposing the plans.

Local resident John Sutton said in a submission to council that the lodge would “destroy our beautiful lake environment”.

Longview Environmental Trust argued the location was inappropriate and would be highly visible. “No level of mitigation can satisfactorily reduce the level of adverse effects that will be created,” they said.

The Upper Clutha Environmental Society said the site was “wholly within and surrounded by outstanding natural landscape … landscape of national importance” and submitted opposing the development, saying “The development is likely to cause significant adverse physical changes to the appearance of the natural landscape when viewed from public places in the vicinity”.

In total, the council received seven formal submissions opposing or asking for changes to the plan, and none in support.

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, a support of former US president Donald Trump, was granted New Zealand citizenship after spending just 12 days in the country. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

The lodge is not Thiel’s first taste of controversy in New Zealand. The billionaire co-founder of PayPal and Trump supporter was granted New Zealand citizenship despite spending only 12 days in the country, it was revealed in 2017.

Usual route to citizenship requires applicants to be in New Zealand as a permanent resident for at least 1,350 days in the five years preceding an application but the government waived the requirement for Thiel on the basis of his entrepreneurial and philanthropic activities. At the time, Thiel was seen as part of a broader cohort of super-rich investors who hoped to buy up remote New Zealand properties as hideaways for potential societal or environmental collapse.

Related: New Zealand rated best place to survive global societal collapse

The property in question consists of more than 190 hectares on the shores of Lake Wanaka, and under the proposal, part of it will remain as an active farm. In the proposal, Thiel’s company Second Star Ltd argues that the architects “have designed the proposal to blend the buildings in to the undulating landscape that surrounds them”.

“All of the buildings include green roofs which extend to the ground of each end of the buildings. The green roofs are to be planted with the same range of plants (and occasional rocks) that occur on the surrounding hillock landforms”

The consent documents also argue that “the proposed lodge will create high end accommodation in the region, whereby the economic benefits reach across the district and beyond”.

The Guardian approached representatives of Second Star Ltd for comment.

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