Mayor: QLDC will not reverse transfer of Wānaka Airport to QAC [WSG, 08/04/20]

One week before New Zealand went into lockdown, we wrote to the Council, suggesting that in light of world events and the obvious impacts on travel, tourism and the economy, the Wānaka Airport issue should be put to bed.  A few days ago, Jim Boult wrote to us, confirming that Council would not change its position. He talked about “further consultation” by QLDC. But the fact remains that via the so-called “lease” QLDC has already granted to QAC unlawfully, QAC already retains substantial ownership and control of Wānaka Airport. We are gobsmacked and disappointed.  Below is the update we sent our members about this last night.

[Letter on Wanaka Stakeholders Group Inc letterhead, sent at 8:02 pm yesterday]

Wanaka Airport – update from the WSG team

We hope this email finds you safe and well in your bubble for the time being and that you have everything you need wherever you are for the remainder of the lockdown period.

We’ve not been in touch as each member of our core team has been focussing on their own families for obvious reasons. But we are now in a position to update you as to the Council’s position on the airport. Sadly and surprisingly, Council’s position has not changed.

One week before New Zealand went into lockdown, we wrote to the Council, suggesting that in light of world events and the obvious impacts on travel, tourism and the economy, the Wānaka Airport issue be put to bed. We confirmed that we felt that all resources should be focussed on dealing with COVID-19, and said:

“There cannot now be any economic justification for building a second jet-capable airport at Wānaka, only an hour from our existing airport. […] We in the community have much bigger and far more important issues to deal with. We want to find a way to ensure that all your and our energy, resources and focus right now are on the critical concerns facing us.”

In our letter to each of the Councillors we suggested “a total reset”, with QLCD handing back control of Wānaka Airport and Project Pure to our community.

On Friday, we had an unsatisfactory reply back from Jim Boult. Council’s position and intentions remain unchanged, and they are not prepared to “reset”.

To be honest, we were surprised. Since writing to Council 20 days ago, the seriousness of the impacts of COVID-19 have become even clearer. All airlines including Air New Zealand have dropped all flights to Queenstown, global tourism is in deep trouble, economists are predicting a “long and hard” recovery (particularly for tourism), and our Mayor has even said in the media: “Forget about airports … we’re just not even going to be thinking about things like that.” But it appears that those comments are just soundbites.

To say that we are disappointed with Council’s reply is an understatement. That our elected officials and council executives would even give further thought to developing a jet airport in Wānaka is unthinkable. There is no foreseeable future in which leaving the door open for QAC to develop a jet airport in Wānaka would be rational, responsible or acceptable, and there is no doubt that the community supports this view.

The fact remains that the so-called “lease” of Wānaka Airport to QAC (and related side agreements made at the time) was to all intents and purposes a transfer of ownership and control of our airport to QAC, and was unlawful under the Local Government Act. This now leaves the door open to development by QAC of a jet airport in Wānaka in the future. Continuing with our judicial review proceedings is now our only chance to get Wānaka Airport back in full public ownership and control on behalf of the Upper Clutha community in particular where it belongs, by reversing the unlawful action by council. This will also enable the community to regain full control of Project Pure, also a crucial “strategic asset” of our community.

We’ve already raised with Council that the energy, time and resource involved should be allocated elsewhere, but they have held their position on the so-called “lease”. For that reason, we are carrying on with legal action: we are currently preparing our evidence for the case, and we expect that after the lockdown is lifted, we’ll be advised by the High Court of timing for the judicial review court hearing.

If you want to read the full court papers that the Court has made public, we are happy to provide them to you so that you can read them.

In the meantime, we wish you all the best while we’re all in our bubbles. We’ll be in touch.

Noho ora mai
The Committee, Wanaka Stakeholders Group Inc.

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