Court told QLDC withheld information from Councillors over Wanaka airport [Crux, 23/09/20]

Photos: Crux

A High Court case in Queenstown today heard evidence that elected QLDC councillors were kept in the dark over plans to introduce jet aircraft to an expanded Wanaka airport.

Bob Hollyman QC (main image above), representing the Wanaka Stakeholders Group (WSG), said that former councillor Ella Lawton would have voted differently if she had been supplied with the full facts surrounding expansion of Wanaka Airport.

In an affidavit supporting the WSG Ms Lawton said the 100-year Wanaka airport lease she had been briefed on was quite different to the agreement that was eventually signed. “Had I known, I would have voted differently” Mr Hollyman told the court quoting from Ella Lawton’s written evidence.

Ella Lawton headshot MR

Former QLDC councillor Ella Lawton – “would have voted differently if she knew of QAC plans.”

The lease is at the centre of the week-long judicial review before Justice Gerard Van Bohemen. WSG alleges the QLDC and Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) did not act legally in transferring ownership and control of Wanaka airport to QAC via the lease. WSG also claims that QLDC did not act truthfully when consulting with the community as the information used was not accurate or complete.

QLDC and QAC dispute the claims, arguing that the lease did not pass ownership and control of Wanaka airport as control still rested with QLDC via the often-controversial Statement of Intent process. They also argue that as no decisions have actually been made the community could not have been misled.

Mr Hollyman also presented evidence to the court that suggested the existence of an ambitious plan to fast track the introduction of commercial jet traffic to an expanded Wanaka airport back in 2016.

The evidence comes from a secret November 2016 agreement, still not released to the public by QAC or QLDC, that is called a Strategic Alliance Agreement (SAA) – between QAC and Auckland Airport (AIAL). The SAA outlines new financial targets that Mr Hollyman says could only be met by the rapid introduction of jet aircraft to Wanaka airport.

Colin Keel MR2

QAC CEO Colin Keel – Queenstown Airport Corporation can only do what QLDC agrees to under the annual Statement of Intent

“The 2016 SAA set a $75 million revenue target (35 million after tax and costs) for the Queenstown Airport Corporation, to be delivered by June 2021. However, at that stage the June 2016 revenue numbers were only in the range of $8 million to $14 million. Jet capability at Wanaka was the only way to get to the new, stretch targets.”

The court was also told that Mayor Jim Boult had been given the right by QLDC to negotiate the terms of the Wanaka airport lease, albeit alongside the QLDC CEO Mike Theelen and two selected councillors.

Much of the WSG evidence during the first two days of the judicial review has centred on what they claim are unusual features of the lease which they claim make it more of a sale and transfer of control document than an actual lease.

WSG also claim that community consultation by QLDC deliberately hid plans to introduce narrow body jet aircraft to Wanaka as well as understating the extent of planned Wanaka airport expansion.

QLDC and QAC Submissions.

Nick Whittington, acting for QLDC, agreed with WSG that there would be a problem if the Wanaka airport lease did in fact transfer ownership and control. He argued that was not the case.

Read this in full here.

Photos: Crux

%d bloggers like this: