Accusations of ‘Trumpian’ behaviour as Wanaka airport debate continues [Stuff, 21/02/20]

The “ugly” debate over proposed commercial flights to Wanaka has led to accusations of defamatory comments and counterclaims of “Trumpian” behaviour.

For 18 months the communities of Queenstown and Wanaka have been grappling with plans by the Queenstown Airport Corporation to dramatically increase the number of flights into Queenstown and introduce scheduled flights to Wanaka.

Independent consultants MartinJenkins​ are undertaking independent socio and economic impact assessments on behalf of the Queenstown Lakes District Council, and a new round of public consultation began this week.

Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult wants flights to Christchurch and Auckland from Wanaka Airport.
SUPPLIED: Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult wants flights to Christchurch and Auckland from Wanaka Airport.

A series of focus groups are being held with one person from each community group invited to take part. The wider public can participate through an online survey.

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The Wanaka Stakeholders Group has been spearheading the opposition in that town and called the latest round of consultation “broken and not fit for purpose”.

The group put out a joint statement with the chairs of community associations in Hawea, Luggate, Albert Town, Mt Barker and Cardrona, calling the consultation process “deficient” and “unacceptable”.

Wanaka Chamber of Commerce representative Celia Crosbie attended one focus group and said: “The professional facilitators did a great job of listening to all viewpoints. I can’t really say the same about some participants throughout this process.”

She left the two-hour session “feeling deflated and a bit battered and bruised from the obvious anger and negativity that was in the room”.

The debate was “one of the ugliest I’ve seen in my [15 years] in Wanaka”, she said.

About the same time, Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult wrote on Facebook that many people were telling councillors they supported having domestic flights out of Wanaka, but were reluctant to say so publicly as they were concerned about the reaction from groups that held a different view.

“There are borderline defamatory comments made on social media. This is not something [Queenstown Lakes District Council] and [Queenstown Airport Corporation] staff should be subjected to.”

Wanaka Stakeholders Group deputy chairman Mark Sinclair was not at the focus group, but said emotions were running high as community groups felt the process was designed to shut down the debate.

Statements from Boult and the chamber were being used to minimise the community’s voice, he said.

“These techniques are verging on being Trumpian.”

Boult said formal consultation would be held later.

The Wanaka Stakeholders Group, which claims 3300 members, filed for judicial review in the High Court late last year over the process that allowed Queenstown Airport Corporation to take a 100-year-lease of Wanaka Airport.

The hearing is due to take place after June.

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