Wanaka Stakeholders Group holds AGM – see Chairperson’s report

On Wednesday, Wanaka Stakeholders Group Inc. held it’s Annual General Meeting. The meeting was attended by core members and chairs of local residents associations.

An annual report from WSG Chairman Michael Ross was tabled at the meeting. You can read the report below.

Chairperson’s report to AGM of Wanaka Stakeholders Group Inc. Wanaka, Wednesday 24th June 2020 

Greetings to All, 

This brief report attempts to summarise the first year’s activities of the Wanaka Stakeholders Group Inc. (WSG) 

Incorporation and membership growth WSG was incorporated on April 1st 2019. A core group of approximately 20 individuals were vitally interested in the issues surrounding the future management and development of Wanaka Airport. This group established the society rules and day to day operations of the Incorporated Society. The strategic focus of the incorporated society is to protect the future of this community strategic asset by ensuring the public is well-informed on all matters to do with Wanaka Airport and that the community is properly consulted on any plans for its development, for example as a jet capable, dual airport with Queenstown. 

Over the last 12 months our membership has climbed from the initial group to well over 3,000 as at March 31st 2020. As of today – June 25th – total members number 3,430 which makes WSG the largest membership group formed around a single key issue in the QLDC area. 

● Our membership database is carefully maintained, following best practices – people are able to withdraw from the membership at any time. 

● Our membership is equivalent to nearly 50% of the adult population of Wanaka. 

● We have the full backing of the community associations of Hawea, Luggate, Mt Barker and Albert Town, who put out a joint statement in support of WSG – which is a first for Wanaka. 

● 20% of our members either own a local business or run one. 

● 83% of our members either live in the Upper Clutha or are non-resident ratepayers here. 

● 79% of our members live in Wanaka, Albert Town, Luggate, Hawea or Hawea Flat. 

● Two thirds live in Wanaka or Albert Town. 

● We have a core team of just over 20 volunteers who between them have clocked up more than 10,000 hours work with WSG. 

Activities from April 2019 onwards In late April 2019 – we began a relationship with our principal legal adviser who has continued to work for WSG ever since. The team in Auckland now comprises three prominent barristers/QC’s and highly experienced legal experts in the wider team. 

At around the same time WSG set up an organisational structure to refine its activities and make best use of its core membership. Two key objectives were to expand membership and start fund-raising to ensure the society had the necessary finances to cover legal costs. Both objectives have met with considerable success, testifying to widespread community support in the Upper Clutha for the society. 

The society has been equally successful with its core strategic aims. In late June 2019, WSG’s submission and the submissions of others similarly concerned resulted in Queenstown Airport Corporation’s annual Statement of Intent (SOI) being rejected by full Council. This represented a clear reaction to concerns in the community about the proposal by QAC to turn Wanaka Airport into a jet capable, dual airport without open and informed consultation by council. 

In July/August our website and Facebook activity stepped up to a new level, refining our branding, reinforcing our existing messaging and significantly expanding our communication scope and capability through a more sophisticated social media presence. Combined with our active membership drive, this helped secure our reputation as a trusted, factually reliable source of information about the airport issue. 

Over the course of the last twelve months we have actively engaged with both Council (QLDC) and Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC), seeking an informed discussion about the future of Wanaka Airport, the need for wider consultation and the need for the community to have access to the contents and terms of the 100 year lease to QAC. We have made presentations in public fora on numerous occasions, had significant correspondence with both entities and made numerous statements through the media. 

Given the lack of response by Council to our requests for consultation, WSG was forced to step up its legal case, notifying councillors and the council executive that our advice was that Council may have acted unlawfully in granting the 100-year lease to QAC on Wanaka Airport. 

In response to the building pressure from WSG and the community, at a council meeting in Wanaka on 8 August 2019, the Mayor announced that expansion of noise boundaries at Queenstown Airport and development plans for Wanaka Airport would be paused while an Economic and Social Impact assessments were carried out. 

During the lead-up to the October 2019 local government elections, we actively promoted our cause and were responsible for organising the largest pre-election “meet the candidates” meeting ever held in Wanaka. This event filled the Lake Wanaka Centre to capacity. Our continuing releases of information and media links through our website continued to raise awareness of this issue within the community. This pressure eventually led to the Mayor agreeing to release a copy of the previously secret Wanaka Airport lease to QAC. The release was timed to placate electorate concerns during the election campaign. 

Having seen the details contained in the lease and having taken legal advice on what appear to be breaches by Council of the Local Government Act, WSG filed for Judicial Review proceedings in the High Court in Invercargill. This lengthy and detailed judicial process is ongoing and we expect it to lead to a hearing in the High Court later this year. 

In the meantime, WSG has continued with its objective of keeping its members and the community informed. Late in December 2019, WSG launched a short video made by Animation Research Ltd of Dunedin. Based on the information publicly available, it covers the key facts to date and illustrates what a fully operational jet service out of Wanaka would look like. This featured on TV news and was widely reported across NZ. This animation remains a significant feature on our website today. 

Early in 2020, we continued to gather and provide information around the airport issue to our members, as well as do everything possible to increase transparency and hold QLDC to account. Early in the year we summarised for all here, the seven key reasons there should should be no commercial jet aircraft operations at Wanaka Airport. We sent this to all QLDC councillors. 

We will continue to increase transparency and drive accountability from QAC and QLDC The governance team of WSG believes that we have – to the best of our knowledge and capability – faithfully reported in a fully transparent manner all our key actions and communications directly to members and the wider community. Our online library and resource links are extensive, covering both Wanaka airport issues and wider considerations of climate change, aviation and over-tourism. 

Had it not been for the concerted efforts of WSG and its members, we could by now have had in place a master plan for the development of Wanaka Airport into a jet-capable, dual airport with Queenstown, formally approved by Council. Our research and the widespread support from our members and financial supporters tell us that this is not what our community wants. 

That has recently been confirmed by some of the conclusions of the Martin Jenkins report on the Economic and Social Impacts of expanding and developing both Queenstown and Wanaka Airports. Community sentiment in both parts of the district is that the status quo should be maintained – with no further expansion of noise boundaries in Queenstown and no jet airport in Wanaka. 

That is what inspires and drives WSG onward in challenging the Council actions and decisions through a Judicial Review. What ultimately matters is that democracy is upheld, the lawfulness of Council decisions is held to account and that the residents of the Upper Clutha have a say in their way of life and their future. 

Many thanks for your interest and thanks for your ongoing support. 

Michael Ross, Chair, Wānaka Stakeholders Group Incorporated

* WSG membership as at 11:00 24th June 2020 stands at 3,430 people. 

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