Mayor Jim Boult pushed pause last Thursday in regards to further expansion of the Wanaka Airport which is causing “stress, anxiety, dissent and downright vitriol” amongst the residents of both Wanaka and Queenstown.
“[We] need to pause on any further expansion to understand the implications of airport growth on our communities, and most importantly, the economic and social impacts,” he said at the Queenstown Lakes District Council meeting last Thursday.
Boult announced that Council will commission independent economic and social assessments and, “until this exercise is completed, and the outcome assessed, further work on the development of commercial services at Wanaka is on hold.”
He continued, “Both impact assessments will be independently delivered and involve wide consultation and engagement with the public and sector groups to ensure a robust view of the significance and impacts of the airports are well understood.”
Committing to economic and social impact assessment has been cautiously welcomed by critics, however the Wanaka Sun questioned why an independent environmental assessment is not on the cards.
Queenstown Airport Corporation is responsible for environmental impacts of its own operations but not that of airlines, rental car companies, taxis and other auxiliary services that make up the sum of an expanded airport. So even with the best of intentions, QAC cannot provide a holistic, district-wide environmental report. Sara Irvine from QAC says, “we are responsible for what we can measure and manage.” Airlines are responsible for their environmental impact, whilst rental car companies are responsible for theirs — but currently there is no one tying them all together.
Council’s response was, “Environmental issues involving the airport come under the existing Climate Change Action Plan, which already states QLDC will engage with QAC regarding their emissions. Environmental issues may also be addressed as part of the planned social impact assessment.”
The draft Climate Action Plan states that, “Using a 2018 resident population of approximately 37,000, our annual gross emissions per person were estimated at 18.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. The national average per person is 17.4 tonnes.” That report also listed aviation, road transport and waste as the biggest generators of carbon in our district — and this is before an expanded airport. There are currently no estimates that predict what they will be after a full expansion.
Irvine stated that QAC has “genuine intent” to manage environmental effects, “While our sustainability framework encompasses the environmental, social and economic, we are focusing on the environment this year, including introducing an Environmental Management System and carbon mapping. We are going to be benchmarking the business in key areas, looking at what others are doing and assessing opportunities in order to bring a number of initiatives into the sustainability framework. We will be working together with our stakeholders, including the airlines, to continuously improve.”
When asked if QAC is working towards council’s zero emissions 2050 goal, Irvine said, “No. We are not working towards zero emissions. I’m not in a position to say we will be aiming for that.” Admittedly, it wasn’t because QAC is deliberately not aiming for zero but because they haven’t “done the work” required to make such a statement. However, if the Climate Action Plan has any teeth and becomes policy rather than flimsy wishes, then QAC has no choice but to comply.
One question the Wanaka Sun put to Council was, “If the social and/or economic impact assessments prove unfavourable to QLDC, is Council prepared to limit Wanaka's airport to domestic, turbo-prop flights only or is the airport expansion an all-or-nothing proposition?”
Their response stated, “As the assessment projects have yet to be determined it’s too early to pre-empt any outcomes or decisions, or state what information will be shared.”
In regards to the question of money, the Wanaka Sun asked whether, as part of the full, honest and transparent consultation that Boult has promised, will QLDC give the public more information about where the money is coming from to fund the proposed expansion? To which they replied, “Once the assessment projects have been scoped we will look to share appropriate information to inform the community engagement. At this early stage we cannot specify what that will be.” For those hoping for full disclosure, this response comes as a disappointment.
In response to Boult’s declaration, Michael Ross of the Wanaka Stakeholders Group said, “We are, and have always been, future focussed, open minded, and have the best interests of the community at heart. In pushing for development of Wanaka Airport based on projected demand and a growth management agenda, you are on the brink of making decisions about our community which will shape our future, irreversibly. We remain adamant that the community should be front and centre of this discussion and fully involved in the decision making process.”