Wānaka Airport Court Case Revealing; Community Should Now Refocus

Press Release – Wanaka Stakeholders Group

The Wānaka community group which spent last week in Court taking on the local Council and airport company is urging people in the Upper Clutha not to get complacent whilst waiting for the judge’s decision. Wānaka Stakeholders Group Inc. says that the information made public during the hearing should be “ringing alarm bells”.

WSG Chair, Michael Ross, said that he had already had feedback from some who were present at the hearing who were “horrified at what was uncovered last week.” Despite Queenstown Lakes District Council and Queenstown Airport Corporation both pleading that “no decision has been made” to build a jet airport at Wānaka Airport, it was revealed in the hearing that runway plans had been drawn up, millions budgeted by Council to move parts of Project Pure away from the proposed runway in the coming months, and the Mayor and CEO had also written to QAC giving them “confidence to carry on.”

The letter confirmed that QLDC “believed that the Board was skilled and capable to make decisions under the guidance of the SOI “ and “that the only area where the Council would expect to be involved was if the company proposed expanding its operation beyond aeronautical services or where it might seek to act beyond the boundaries of the Southern Region”. Mr Ross said that this meant that if it was business as usual and as indicated in the SOI then “QLDC were saying they should just get on with it!”

“The runway plans, budget allocation and letters to QAC, along with other reports and meetings kept confidential for years, indicate that Council is paving the way for jets in Wānaka, which is exactly what QAC wants,” he said. And all of this without properly involving the community.

Mr Ross said that one of biggest revelations was the detail of the Strategic Alliance Agreement between Auckland and Queenstown airport companies. “Despite Auckland being a minority shareholder, there is an agreement in place requiring QAC to work with Auckland to set the annual objectives for QAC, including revenue targets. QAC asked the judge to make orders preventing this agreement being reported on, but the judge refused and most of it was discussed openly in court last week.” He said that targets already agreed with Auckland Airport strongly indicated that QAC would need to get jet operations underway at Wānaka Airport by 2025.

During the judicial review, the court also heard that QLDC had withheld crucial information about the plans for Wānaka Airport not just from ratepayers, but also from Councillors. WSG presented evidence from former councillors who had been asked to make decisions about Wānaka Airport but had not seen the secret Strategic Alliance Agreement with Auckland Airport.

It was noted that despite there being thousands of pages of evidence – most of it provided by WSG – there was no evidence from the Mayor, any Councillors or any director of QAC – all people who had been very closely involved in making key decisions along the way, including the all important 100 year lease.

WSG member and Wānaka resident Terry Hetherington sat through the entire hearing and said that he was very surprised by the lack of evidence from Council. “There was no evidence given at all about the lease negotiations, despite Jim Boult and Wānaka’s own Calum McLeod being amongst the four men delegated to do this for the Council. I’m also quite surprised that only one person from QLDC or QAC came to observe the case during the entire week – that was Councillor Niki Gladding who was there every day. I was expecting that our local Wānaka Councillors would be there, even for some of the time, particularly given that we represent such a large chunk of the community.”

Mr Ross said that WSG was feeling confident about the case and that the team felt that the judge understood WSG’s concerns. A decision from the Judge is expected “this side of Christmas” according to Michael Ross. “No doubt, he’ll need to take his time given the volume of evidence and complexity of the case.”

In the meantime, Mr Ross says that WSG is asking members to “keep alert to airport issues” and also “focus on the big issues” around the airport debate. “At its heart, our concerns about Wānaka Airport come back to issues such as infrastructure, the environment, quality tourism, and Council’s unwavering growth mantra. These issues affect not just the airport, but our entire district, and we need proper, community-wide discussion about them.”

Mr Ross said that it was “no longer acceptable” for Council just to bulldoze its plans through without “full, frank and balanced dialogue with the community it serves.”

“WSG is all about ensuring that the people of the Upper Clutha are heard, included and consulted on all key issues. The days of backroom deals or corporates dictating the future of our community are over.”

Content Sourced from scoop.co.nz
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