Wānaka Airport owners accused of misleading community [RNZ, 05/11/20]

A group fighting against development of Wānaka Airport claims the airport’s owners are not being upfront with the community about its plans.

Wānaka Airport and its sister facility in Queenstown are owned by Queenstown Airport Corporation which is itself majority owned by the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

Plans in recent years for expanding both facilities were shelved after pushback from locals and the airport further committed not to increasing aircraft movements allowed at Queenstown Airport or developing Wānaka Airport in its statement of intent.

The statement, which included the commitment not to develop Wānaka Airport or expand Queenstown Airport’s air noise boundaries (essentially the number of commercial aircraft movements) before July 2023, went to the Queenstown Lakes District Council last week where the statement was accepted by a majority of councillors.

The statement of intent is legally required and broadly outlines the council-owned company’s plans for the next three years.

Wānaka Stakeholders Group deputy chair Mark Sinclair said his group was not convinced.

“QAC has said no further development until June 2023, but that’s actually not true,” Sinclair said.

“They can change their plans or change their immediate intentions any time by putting a new statement of intent to council and in fact a new one is due in just over six months’ time. So to say this locks in a pause until June 2023 is just not the case at all.”

The Wānaka Stakeholders Group was concerned the public was being misled by the airport and the council, he said.

Legal battle

Queenstown Airport Corporation, Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Wānaka Stakeholders Group are locked in a legal battle at present and Sinclair believed the airport should have held off on the statement of intent until after the judge’s decision.

“The appropriate course of action would’ve been to wait for the judgement to come out or at least to take into account fully, all of the key legal issues and the arguments that QAC and QLDC put before the court and indeed Wānaka Stakeholders Group.

“But none of that was considered by any of the councillors and in fact they haven’t been briefed on it. They have no knowledge of the detail.”

Concerns over the long-term plans for Wānaka Airport caused councillor Quentin Smith to vote against the statement of intent.

“What we don’t have and what is the ongoing argument for the community really is around what does the future hold and what are the plans for the airports in the future,” he said.

“I think that will continue to be the case until both the council and the QAC in consultation with the community resolve a plan for the future.”

Smith was one of only two councillors to vote against accepting the statement of intent.

Statement of intent is clear – QAC

In response to a request to comment on Wānaka Stakeholders Group’s concerns, Queenstown Airport Corporation issued a statement.

“Under the Local Government Act QAC is required to submit a statement of intent annually, which covers a three-year time horizon. The recently approved statement of intent covers operations and activities at both Queenstown and Wanaka airports and is very clear on the airport company’s commitments regarding Wanaka Airport over that time period,” the statement said.

“For reference this is the section relevant to planning and development at Wanaka Airport in the SOI for the current period to June 2023:

QAC is working with Sounds Air to introduce scheduled turbo-prop services between Wānaka and Christchurch in late 2020. Scheduled services have not operated at Wānaka Airport since 2013. The population of Wānaka and the Upper Clutha increased by 39% between 2013 and 2019 and the local community has responded positively to the proposed service. The introduction of this service does not require additional infrastructure at Wānaka Airport.

As noted above, a consequence of COVID-19 is a reduction in passenger and aircraft movements to and from the region which is expected to continue for some time. In the current operating environment QAC will not pursue any expansion at Wānaka Airport. However, we do expect at some point in the future to resume the master planning process for Wānaka Airport and this will be signalled in a future Statement of Intent. In any event and to ensure clarity on a specific point raised in recent public commentary, QAC has not sought nor is it seeking going forward to accommodate wide-body jet operations in the long-term planning for Wānaka Airport.

“QAC is the second respondent to judicial review proceedings brought by WSG against QLDC and QAC in the High Court. It would not be appropriate for QAC to comment further while the High Court judgement is pending.”

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said he did not comment on matters related to the Wānaka Stakeholders Group.

A council spokesperson said it was comfortable with the process around the statement of intent.

Work on the new statement of intent would begin in the coming months.

Read this on the RNZ website here.

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