Details of QLDC’s refusal to “reset” revealed in court today

Whilst presenting their submissions to the High Court today, QLDC revealed details of a letter which they had previously wanted to keep private. We can now reveal the entire exchange between WSG and QLDC to members and the wider community as New Zealand was going into lockdown.

The initial exchange took place just before lockdown. We wrote to all councillors suggesting a “reset” of Wānaka Airport, so that we could all focus on more important things, and not worry about our local airport being turned into a sizeable jet airport. Our offer was ultimately rejected, and Mayor Boult confirmed in no uncertain terms that the lease would not be reversed.

Our offer, their reply and our response back to them are revealed below for the first time. Happy reading.

Wednesday 18th March 2020

Dear Mayor Boult and QLDC Councillors 

Covid-19 and resolution of the legal proceedings over Wānaka Airport.

We write to you as fellow Kiwis and residents of the Queenstown-Lakes region, to propose an end to the current litigation, so that we can focus on dealing with the much bigger problems we are facing from Covid-19.  

Events over the last few days have confirmed our worst fears about Covid-19 and its impact on the world and on New Zealand.  We must now focus on minimising the impact the virus has on our community.

Stepping back, the current litigation over Wānaka Airport must be all but academic.  Air New Zealand and Auckland Airport are in trading halt.  Airlines around the world are shutting down.  Covid-19 will have a major and long-lasting economic impact, including on our own local communities.  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.

We therefore write to propose a resolution of the litigation along the lines of a “total reset” of the position.  

In your recent email (Jim Boult to Mark Sinclair, 11 March 2020), you acknowledged that no proper consultation has yet been undertaken in relation to Wānaka Airport’s future development and said that no decision about that has yet been made by QLDC. 

Taking that as a starting point, we believe that there is a basis to resolve the Court proceedings.  You may also be aware that there is a strong legal argument that the “lease” of Wānaka Airport from QLDC to QAC was in breach of the Local Government Act (s 97).

We have proposed the above in the interests of allowing our community to focus on the unprecedented, life-threatening and life-changing issues from Covid-19.

Could QLDC please confirm as a matter of urgency whether you agree in principle. At a time like this, it would show bold and responsible leadership, and a focus on what’s important in these changed circumstances, and it would be appropriate for QLDC and WSG to make a joint public statement.

Yours sincerely

The Committee, Wānaka Stakeholders Group Incorporated*

First reply from Mayor Boult 18 March 2020

Dear Mark

Thank you for your letter, I agree the Covid 19 pandemic has reshaped our entire tourism industry and the economic future of the district. In my view, getting certainty on the playing field going forward is absolutely critical, and in time of uncertainty, planning for the future is vitally important.

We will take advice on your proposal and discuss this with councillors before offering you a formal response to your invitation, and will endeavour to do this promptly.


Jim Boult

Our response, but email, to Jim Boult, on the same day

Hi Jim

Thanks for your note, and for confirming that you will discuss this with Councillors.  I also appreciate you all (we all) are busy and preoccupied.

I want to ensure that you are clear with what we are suggesting.  Our preferred option is that all parties come out of this having done the right thing at a crucial time.  

We agree that planning for the future is vitally important – all New Zealanders will have nothing else on their mind right now.  There is no foreseeable future in which leaving the door open for a jet airport in Wanaka would be rational, responsible or acceptable, and there is no doubt that the community supports this view.

We already agree that there has been no consultation on a jet airport.  We would suggest you seek a second legal opinion around QLDC’s non compliance with section 97 of the LGA regarding the lease.

Let’s get this sorted so that none of us has to waste time, money or energy debating a proposition which is now futile.  For clarity, Plan B is to continue on to the High Court, as we have almost everything in place for that now, including our amended Statement of Claim which, if you’ve seen it, makes sobering reading for QLDC.  I’ve attached a track changes version of this document to this email, for expediency.

Really looking forward to hearing back shortly.


… and a further email from WSG on the same day

Jim, further, I have just read the excellent article in the Mountain Scene (here).  I think we are more on the same page than we all realise right now.  ““Forget about airports … we’re just not even going to be thinking about things like that.”  That’s exactly our point.

Hear from you soon.

Our follow up with Jim Boult on 30 March 2020 – almost two weeks later, after no reply

Good evening, Jim

I hope you and your family are safe and well.

I am following up on your response of 19 March, to see if you have taken advice and discussed our proposal with councillors, as you indicated. Could you please let us know where you are with this?

We completely understand the complexity of the current lockdown and resulting economic situation (as we’re all impacted of course). As per our original letter we also feel strongly that the community would take great comfort from a bold decision on stepping down from Wanaka Airport development, so that we can all focus on more important things.

We are looking forward to hearing what Council would like to do, or understanding your timeframe for doing so.

We have numerous members who are already asking what is happening, and we feel we need to be updating all members, particularly after media comments in the ODT today.

Thanks in advance 


To which Jim Boult replied on 31st March

Good Morning Mark

Yes, we are well, as I trust your and your family are.

This matter is the subject of current discussion, and we will be back to you in the short term.

On 2nd April 2020 we finally got this response …

Without prejudice

Dear Mr Sinclair,

Re: Covid-19 and resolution of proceedings regarding Wānaka Airport

Thank you for your letter of 18 March 2020 to the Mayor and Councillors. As your
letter proposes a resolution of the proceeding, we have treated it as without prejudice
and this response is likewise sent on a without prejudice basis.

The Council agrees that the impact of COVID-19 internationally and in particular on
the Queenstown-Lakes District will be far-reaching and presents unprecedented
challenges for our district that need to take priority. The Council’s primary concern is
minimising and managing the impact of this global pandemic on our community for
both the short and long term. We understand WSG shares these concerns, and
agree there is benefit in reaching a constructive resolution to this proceeding together
at this time.

After reviewing your letter, it seems to us that our positions are not all that far apart in
any event. We understand that WSG’s primary concern is an introduction of
commercial jet aircraft, coupled with a perception that this will occur without the need
for any future processes or consultation. This is not the case.

While the possibility of growth has been signalled at Wānaka airport for some time
and the Council has been alert to the need to future proof this possibility, despite
WSG’s assertions to the contrary, the airport’s future is not set in stone, no decision
about the future services at the airport has been made, and no particular outcome is
being actively pursued. As we all understand, the effects of the current international
crisis will mean that both community growth and visitor travel is likely to be weak for
some time and that demand pressure for new services is likely to be limited for some

These factors will clearly influence the future steps for the airport, but setting this
crisis aside for a moment, it has always been the case that a range of potential
options for the airport exist which are still to be worked through via various processes
to assess their feasibility, suitability and public support. As you know, QAC’s
masterplan process is an important aspect of refining these options and seeking the
views of the community. That process was underway but not yet complete and its
timing will now undoubtedly be affected by the present situation.

While there is uncertainty as to these matters, it remains the position that if there is
any future proposal to use the airport in such a way that would require formal public
consultation or other steps, then the Council would naturally need to be satisfied that
its obligations in those respects are met. In other words, those steps are still to come
depending on what is ultimately proposed for the airport’s future, which now may be
some time away.

To be clear, it remains the Council’s position that there has already been formal,
lawful and appropriate public consultation undertaken in respect of the governance
and management structure of Wānaka Airport via the Special Consultative Procedure
undertaken in 2016-17. If WSG’s proposal of a “total reset” refers to an unwinding of
the lease, this will not be considered.

However, in the interests of reaching a resolution, the Council is happy to formally
undertake to ensure that there is formal public consultation in respect of the future
development of Wānaka Airport if it is proposed that any significant changes are to
be made to the existing services. As stated above, we understand this is WSG’s
primary concern and consider this undertaking addresses that issue. We agree a
joint media statement between Council and WSG could be prepared accordingly.
It is important to note that this response is provided on behalf of the Council only,
given our understanding that your letter was sent only to the Council. Any resolution
to the proceeding would of course need to be agreed to by QAC.

We look forward to hearing back from you and to continuing to progress this dialogue
towards a satisfactory solution being achieved across all parties.

Yours sincerely,
Jim Boult ONZM

Our reply back to QLDC on 7 April 2020

Dear Mayor Boult and QLDC Councillors 

Covid-19 and resolution of the legal proceedings over Wānaka Airport.

We have received your response and are truly disappointed by its content. 

The concerns we had when we wrote on 18 March have become far worse than we then imagined.  We cannot fathom why there is even any talk at all, in the current economic environment, of any new airport.  Tourism has changed permanently.  Air New Zealand itself predicts it will be 30% smaller even when, eventually, the world recovers. Economists are predicting that any recovery will be long and hard, and that many industries, notably tourism, will “never be the same”. These are issues that directly affect our region and, frankly, make it ludicrous to maintain that there should be significant spending to expand Wanaka airport into jet capability. 

We are glad that you agree Council’s primary concern should now be to minimise the impact of the pandemic on our community and that there would be benefit in reaching a constructive resolution to this proceeding.    But that is neither here nor there given that “the Council’s position” is that sufficient consultation has taken place and that the lease of Wanaka Airport to QAC is lawful:  if that is truly your  position, this scuttles all prospects of resolution. 

For WSG it is fundamental that the so-called “lease” be set aside, and control of this strategic asset returned to the community.  The “consultation” of 2016-17 and the consequent “lease” of Wanaka airport to QAC, which gives away ownership and control of the airport and compromises Council control, management and future expansion of Project Pure, is very much in breach of the LGA.  Our amended statement of claim clearly sets out the reasons for that. Given the Council’s position on this issue, our challenge must proceed.

Your intention to consult on any proposed future changes to Wanaka Airport does not address “WSG’s primary concern”.  On the contrary it seems to be doing no more than adopting QLDC’s present flawed approach to consultation and the current processes it is continuing with, on the basis of assuming the validity of all that has gone before.  Our primary concern is the so called lease, unlawfully entered into, and all subsequent decisions of Council which build upon that.

Whatever one makes of the earlier decision to hand ownership and control of Wanaka airport to QAC, and the plan to build a jet capable airport, it is nonsensical for QLDC and QAC now to spend time and money defending that.  The only logical decision in the current circumstances is what we proposed in our letter of 18 March – a “total reset”.  Let’s focus on getting through the current public health crisis, and then surviving the global economic crisis. 

One final thing. Our letter was an open letter to the Council, and you were not obliged or entitled to treat it as without prejudice.  We had kept it confidential, however, in the hope that it would generate a sensible resolution.  We reserve our right to publish it, along with your reply and this letter.

Yours sincerely

The Committee, Wānaka Stakeholders Group Incorporated*

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