Mayor’s statement at today’s Council Meeting
Earlier today, Mayor Jim Boult made a statement to the full Council meeting in Wanaka as a result of public concern about both Wanaka and Queenstown Airport plans. His full statement is below.
“On behalf of my fellow Councillors I would like to take this opportunity to outline today a fresh approach that Council intends to take on future airport development which we have conveyed to the Queenstown Airport Corporation.
The points I am about to make have been discussed in recent days with QAC and the Statement of Intent will be updated to reflect this amended direction. The board of QAC has yet to discuss this, and I respect that, but Council is expressing a clear expectation today and I am confident the Board will listen.
Today, however, I want to address first and foremost our community. Here in the Lakes District we are experiencing change based on continuous rapid growth. This is not new – the issue has been with us for decades. Some embrace change, some are new to it and some are deeply challenged by it. Caught up in that tension is the undeniable need to strategically plan for it. In fact, as a High Growth Council the government requires us to plan for and demonstrate how we will accommodate growth, and measures our achievements towards these outcomes.
Businesses plan for growth, the tourism sector plans for it and so too must the Queenstown Airport Corporation. In fact, they are compelled to do so as a Council Controlled Trading Organisation, not only to understand growth, but to plan for and to invest in the infrastructure to facilitate it. Out of all the master planning and infrastructure planning and transport planning that is happening within this district, it was the QAC’s growth projections last year that brought all the challenges and perceptions around growth firmly into the light.
For many the prospect and the quantum of that long term forecast growth was hard to accept. When we cast our planning forward 30 years the numbers are confronting, and that’s why we are now seriously committed to strategic growth management. In terms of the QAC, for some the issue was noise, or aircraft movements and for others it’s the potential of more visitors and more congested roads, and yet others see it as a challenge to the environment.
I have heard some voices say Council is not listening. Today I am going to demonstrate that clearly we are and I can confirm that each and every member of this Council has been very aware of the different opinions across our communities. We have heard voices that are alarmed by change, we have heard voices potentially impacted by noise, voices of the tourism sector reliant on visitors and those who cherish the immediacy of an international airport on their back door step.
From the QAC perspective, they have heard Council’s expectations that they must deliver high quality air services and infrastructure, that they must ensure the airports are key strategic infrastructure assets, that they must plan for the future and importantly they cannot fail to ensure that they maintain their social licence by being a good neighbour. To be fair to the QAC that is what they are delivering on behalf of the district. But there is one other thing we need to bring into this conversation and that is the wellbeing of our people. The clear stress, anxiety, dissent and downright vitriol that this issue is creating in both Queenstown and Wānaka is a genuine source of concern for myself, my fellow Councillors and I know, for the Queenstown Airport Corporation. We have continued to engage with QAC and have agreed the following short term projects with them:
> Project Pathway will continue, which is the terminal upgrade for Queenstown,
> The Lot 6 acquisition will continue and,
> The necessary planning and licensing steps to facilitate any future domestic commercial air services for Wānaka which may occur will progress. But we need to pause on any further expansion to understand the implications of airport growth on our communities and most importantly, the economic and social impacts.
I can confirm today that we will undertake the following work:
> We will ensure that the demand forecasts for the airports are aligned to the projected growth forecasts for the district (resident and visitor expectations) through the district-wide spatial plan which is now being undertaken by QLDC in partnership with central government. This spatial plan follows the lead of the recent Beyond 2050 initiative and will be consulted on with our community.
> We will undertake a wide-ranging Economic Impact Assessment to understand the full economic effect of the airports and their role in supporting the economic wellbeing of the district and the region.
> We will undertake comprehensive Social Impact Assessments for both the Queenstown and Wānaka communities to understand the social impact of further development of the airports, within the context of protecting social licence.
> We will review the QAC’s sustainability goals to ensure that the company is promoting best practice environmental management of its facilities and services, and the airlines serving the district.
> Both impact assessments will be independently delivered and involve wide consultation and engagement with the public and sector groups to ensure a robust view of the significance and impacts of the airports are well understood.
> Collectively these critical projects will allow the company to continue with its short term investment programme which I have outlined. This work will also provide a springboard to then progress the planning for the implementation of its next long term phase of development for both airports out to 2045.
To be clear, in terms of Queenstown Airport until this work has been completed, councillors will not consider or accept any change to Queenstown Airport’s air noise boundaries.
For Wānaka Airport, again, until this exercise is completed, and the outcome assessed, further work on the development of commercial services at Wānaka is on hold with the exception of the technical assessments I mentioned earlier.
The company has told us that this may have both financial and operational consequences, particularly if delays at the planning stage may result in the airport not being able to meet future customer demand in the near term but the company recognises that, in line with Council’s position, protecting social licence is one of the most significant objectives we need to meet.
I recognise that for QAC this commitment to the community will have an impact on the timing of new investment, and that this may negatively impact service levels and costs in the short term. From the ratepayer’s perspective this could impact future dividends. However, we can all agree it is important that the company and its services are able to move forward with sound community backing. Our intention here is not to cap growth and create a static future, but to protect and strategically plan for the long term wellbeing of our community, our precious environment and our economy.
The emerging slowdown in the tourism economy reflected in airport movements may reduce some pressure on the current capacity of Queenstown airport, and provides an opportunity to consider the options and impacts on how we best maintain a high quality service that meets the demand for the entire district.
Finally, to those of you who have been impassioned campaigners in this space, to the tourism sector and indeed those from all different perspectives of the debate, my message is, please bring your energy along with an open mind and a willingness, potentially to compromise, to the table in helping shape the right outcomes for all stakeholders and for the sustained future of this incredible place where we live.”