“QAC disguising jet intentions for Wanaka” – WSG [Crux, 05/11/20]
From the Wanaka Stakeholders Group.
A group of thousands of Wānaka residents is most concerned that the public has been misled by Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) and Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) about their plans for Wānaka Airport. They say that attempts to disguise true intentions for jet services to be eventually introduced into Wānaka Airport are cynically misleading and show a lack of respect for the community.
At last week’s full Council meeting, the majority of Councillors followed the formal advice of QLDC executives, as well as advice provided by QAC CEO Colin Keel and QAC board’s deputy Chair, Simon Flood. Councillors voted to accept the airport company’s Statement of Intent (SOI), a document required by law and which sets the direction for the company, and is revised annually.
But Wānaka Stakeholders Group (WSG) has pointed to serious issues within the SOI and the advice given to Councillors and statements being made by QAC. The group, now representing just short of 3,500 members, and with backing of four community associations in the Upper Clutha, has pointed to “significant failings” within the SOI and the process leading to it and has challenged statements made by officers of both organisations as spin.
WSG Chair Michael Ross
In a letter sent to all councillors prior to last week’s vote, WSG chair Michael Ross had pointed out that the community was waiting on the judicial review judgement to be published following proceedings WSG brought against both QAC and QLDC. He wrote: “It is in our opinion therefore nonsensical, if not arrogant, for QAC and the Council to proceed to agree to this SOI as if the judicial review case never occurred and ignoring all of the evidence and arguments presented to the Court for its review.” However, Councillors voted without an update on the judicial review, and without knowledge of the evidence or legal arguments, save for Councillor Niki Gladding who sat through the court hearing and who voted against the SOI.
On the matter of “dual airports”, WSG claims that QAC is trying to “rewrite the definition” of the term which it, and its consultants Arup, had already clearly defined over many years. Mr Ross pointed out that QAC deputy chairman, Simon Flood, had provided a definition of “dual airport” for Councillors at last week’s meeting which was watered down and “directly contradictory to previous statements” made by QAC about “dual” airports at Queenstown and Wanaka. Answering a question from Councillor Niamh Shaw, Mr Flood watered down the definition by claiming a loose meaning which was that “dual airport means that there are two of them”. This was reinforced by CEO Colin Keel who said it meant “nothing more, nothing less” than that. Yet numerous previous public statements from QAC make it clear that QAC intends to operate narrow body jets in and out of both Queenstown and Wānaka airports under the dual airport model. This position had also been confirmed numerous times by the Mayor and follows from a consultant’s report QAC had commissioned from Arup and which endorsed such a “dual airport” strategy. “It is nonsense to claim that “dual airports” means anything less than jets for Wānaka” Mr Ross said.
Mr Ross also pointed out that the planned runway – clearly referred to in multiple documents from QAC and QLDC – is intended to be capable of taking jets. QAC’s own projections (pre-COVID) have also estimated that Wānaka Airport will become as busy as Queenstown Airport within two decades. “QAC’s watered down definition last week is a calculated attempt to change the narrative and conceal their true plans, none of which are possible without extensive use of jets at Wānaka Airport.”
In recent days, QAC has stated publicly that the latest SOI means that there would be no further development at Wānaka Airport until June 2023. But Mr Ross pointed out that this offers no comfort to the community. “QAC’s statements in the SOI are seemingly innocuous because QAC is clearly not doing anything very short term because of Covid and its effect on international tourism. Yet they are easily able to reverse this position in any future SOI, including the next one, which is due in just over six months. So the notion of three years means nothing – they can start building their jet airport at any time by updating the next SOI.”
Mr Ross pointed out that Council has already started committing millions of ratepayer dollars to making way for the planned runway.” Last month it was revealed that $2.7m has been allocated for additional costs relating to upgrading Project Pure by moving the upgrade away from the planned runway. “This is disgraceful, as QLDC tried to hide this from ratepayers, yet this spend is driven 100% by the planned jet runway. We know this is the tip of a very large and very expensive iceberg and the community is being excluded from any discussion on this, or involvement in the decision.”
Mr Ross said that the group was awaiting the High Court decision, which it hoped would be given within the next few weeks, and WSG would consider its options at that point.
He said that the news wasn’t all bad. “We should acknowledge that some councillors, including two from Wānaka, are doing their very best to protect the strategic assets of the district, and we support these councillors 100%.” Mr Ross said that Councillors Quentin Smith, Niamh Shaw and Niki Gladding had each thought carefully about their position, and had communicated very clearly with ratepayers before and after exercising their vote.”
“The community is “fed up” having to fight the misinformation being pushed into the media by QAC and Council. We will simply not let the community’s rights be overridden, and in spinning the true position Council is continuing to override our rights to be consulted fully and accurately by the Council, not by QAC, before any decisions are made.”