WSG concerned that Mayor Boult cannot answer crucial airport “control” question

In response to a statement made by Mayor Jim Boult on his “Boult for Mayor” Facebook page last week about “misconceptions” about Wanaka Airport, Wanaka Stakeholders Group has been asking very specific questions of the Mayor, seeking very specific answers. We are deeply concerned that the Mayor has not adequately answered our concerns around control of Wanaka Airport, and we think that this is very concerning at a time when people are casting votes. Our conversation thread is published in full below.

1st October, 9.25am

Mr Boult For Mayor, having released the Wanaka Airport lease, there are still many questions we’ve already asked you which remain unanswered, and many new ones which now arise. But there is one vital one we’d request you answer now, which we have already asked but had no response to.

When QLDC made its 2016/2017 decisions to grant the lease to QAC it did so on the basis of saying to the community that it did retain control by “mechanisms retained in the lease” and by the “Statement of Intent process”. Which “mechanisms retained in the lease” are you referring to?

We note that you were prepared to answer our questions promptly below. Given that people are now voting, please provide transparency around this issue. Thank you.

1st October, 11.08pm (nearly 14 hours later)

Mr Boult for Mayor could you please answer our question?

2nd October, 8.49am (24 hours after question)

Protect Wanaka, I’m in a meeting this morning. Will respond later today. Thank you.

2nd October, 12.22

Boult for Mayor, thanks. But these are simple questions, and shouldn’t take you two days to answer. Our comment was made at the start of the day yesterday, and also as you know we have been asking for this information for weeks and weeks. Now that you are making promises to residents and voters (about what will and won’t happen), could you please provide a definitive answers about the control mechanisms in the lease. We can’t see them, and this is crucial.

2nd October, 7.04pm – the Mayor responds (after two full working/voting days)

Protect Wanaka – Both phrases refer to the two documents which council uses to ensure overall control of the airport, noting of course that this is a CCTO (Council Controlled Trading Organisation) and therefore a degree of commercial independence is enshrined in that structure. The SOI does provide the overall strategic direction for the company and it needs to act consistently with this. The current and previous SOIs set out the company’s intention (not in detail) to plan for and introduce commercial services back into Wanaka. The lease likewise contains conditions regarding aspects of the operation of the airport, such as the protection of general aviation and events such as Warbirds Over Wanaka. The lease therefore includes obligations on both parties, but is set up to enable the company to successfully manage the airport at Wanaka. Both those documents therefore exert some QLDC control as stated. All this pre-dated my commitment to the social and economic impact reports, and the community engagement those will include, as well as the districtwide spatial plan. Environmental impacts are included in a social impacts study.

Our response back late last night …

Boult for Mayor thank you for your reply, however your explanation falls significantly short of answering our specific question around the control mechanism.

This is so very important, because the Upper Clutha community is being deprived of an opportunity to have any influence over key decisions around the future of a key community asset – Wanaka Airport. We fear that we, the community, via you, our Mayor and Council, have lost control of it. This is a real concern.

You refer to the two documents “which council uses to ensure overall control of the airport” (previously promised to the community), yet there are significant shortcomings with both documents. In fact the lease, which appears to have been negotiated by you and three other QLDC representatives, not only has no such control mechanisms in it, but has the opposite effect. Let’s look at each in turn …

First, we are all well aware of the shortcomings of the Statement of Intent, which is why your Council has had serious difficulty in accepting any of the versions of the SOI which QAC have recently put to you. In fact, in the full Council meeting where the most recent version was tabled (end of August), Councillors complained amongst other things that they were given insufficient time to review the SOI, that the language was confusing, that there had been too much “cutting and pasting”, that they were not comfortable with the contents, that there weren’t enough specifics, that it did not reflect the wishes or sentiment of the community, etc etc. Yet your recommendation as Mayor chairing the meeting (and the recommendation to the full Council from your executives at QLDC via the paper prepared for this full Council meeting) was that it should be accepted by Council. As you know, it was not accepted.

So where does this leave us? The SOI has neither been accepted by Council, nor does it exert sufficient controls over QAC’s current or planned activities at Wanaka Airport. And there is such confusion around how to resolve this, that it has now been left to the new Council to deal with. A political hot potato?

Second, you say that the Wanaka Airport lease (that you have just finally released) exerts control. But this is just not the case.

In QAC’s media release on 21 March 2018, QAC said that the lease transferred the operation, planning, development and governance of the airport to QAC. Anyone reading the lease (which you released a few days ago after our many months of requests) would agree with QAC’s statement 18 months ago. They will see that quite contrary to what you are saying today, QAC now has very significant freedoms to effectively turn Wanaka Airport into a jet capable airport if they so wish (and given their recent statements in the media, we are justified in thinking that that that is indeed what they wish).

In fact, anyone reading the document closely will be horrified to see that the lease even goes so far as restricting the future development of QLDC’s strategic asset Project Pure, or requiring relocation of it. It has also enabled QAC to acquire the legal ownership of Wanaka Airport assets. As you know, this lease allows QAC to renew the lease in perpetuity (i.e. forever), and so on. This would appear to be the polar opposite of QLDC having control over this strategic asset.

This lease appears to have been negotiated by you, your CEO, Councillor Hill and Councillor MacLeod, so of course you are familiar with these details. Correct us if we are wrong.

If you believe we have overlooked something here, and there is indeed something in the lease which is a mechanism giving QLDC real control, please enlighten us. But please be very specific as to what that mechanism is. You owe it to QLDC residents and voters.

As to the final few sentences of your answer (regarding the social and economic impact reports), we will reply to those separately on the other thread where we have already asked very specific questions (earlier today), which remain unanswered by you.

Thank you in advance for providing much needed clarity, with urgency.

We will update you of responses from Mayor Boult as we receive them.

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