Community groups critical of “broken” consultation process [WSG, 18/02/20]

Five community groups representing thousands of Wanaka and Upper Clutha residents have described the Wanaka Airport consultation process as “broken and not fit for purpose”. Consulting firm MartinJenkins is conducting focus groups in Wanaka and Queenstown this week, relating to impact reports they are preparing for QLDC.

The Chair of Wanaka Stakeholders Group, along with the chairs of community associations in Hawea, Luggate, Albert Town, Mt Barker and Cardrona, have made a joint statement calling out the consultation process as “deficient” and “unacceptable”. Participants were given only one weeks’ notice, with no detailed information being provided in advance of the sessions and the consultation framework unclear.

Jim Cowie, Chair of the Albertown Community Association, speaking on behalf of the six groups, expressed their collective disappointment. “It’s hard to know where to begin – there are so many aspects of this consultation process which are fraught with issues. This is such an important issue for all of us.”

“There is no Environmental assessment – this has been completely overlooked,” he said. “This makes no sense at all – particularly given QLDC’s declaration of a climate emergency last year.”

Mr Cowie said that the six chairs, all of whom attended the focus group session in Wanaka last night, were “deeply disappointed” with what they experienced. “There are numerous and fundamental concerns about these sessions – including that participants had no advance warning of the detailed scenarios they were asked to evaluate, and insufficient information within the session to make meaningful contributions.”

Cherilyn Walthew, chair of the Hawea Community Association pointed out that while community associations representing thousands of residents got just one seat per association, individual property development companies each got one seat, as did other tourism and growth focussed businesses. “Some Wanaka based groups were left out completely. The Makarora Community were only included at the last minute – they hadn’t received an invitation, and others were not even considered.”

“We are also concerned that the grass roots communities most affected by any change in the Upper Clutha were only represented in one of the seven focus group sessions. We think that this will result in unfair odds, weighting and consideration when the final analysis is done.”

Wanaka Stakeholders Group chair Michael Ross noted “ahead of the focus groups, we wrote a very detailed letter to MartinJenkins and the Council, outlining our nine key concerns. It seems to have fallen on deaf ears – we received a placating email back, but nothing has changed.”

He added that the option most favoured by the community, namely “no increase in flights into Queenstown, and only turbo-props into Wanaka” was not even put on the table at the focus group. The perception, he said, is that “the subject matter, selection process and groups are stacked and imbalanced and that the outcome is predetermined.”

The chairs of the six groups made their views known in the focus group, but are concerned that their complaints will be disregarded as “minority views”.

“This has not been a good week for local democracy”, said Mr Ross.

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