Boult’s airport appeasement fails to fly

Pictured: Michael Ross, chair of Wanaka Stakeholders Group. Photo: Supplied.

After Mayor Boult’s dramatic statement at the Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) meeting two weeks ago in an attempt to appease the heated debate, the Wanaka Stakeholders Group (WSG) released their feedback which ranges from respectfully cynical to outright disbelief, with a suspicion that the pause is only for electioneering purposes. “Many of our members have also noted (publicly and privately) that in the lead up to an election, it might be tempting for the council to attempt to calm the voices of concern in the community, at least until the new council is in place, only to continue with ‘Plan A,’” wrote Michael Ross, chair of the WSG. 

Ross doesn’t pull any punches but delivered a clear message about the lack of transparency over the privately negotiated terms of the 100-year lease stating in no uncertain terms that, “we believe the process you have taken to be both unlawful and unreasonable, and we are determined to challenge this if it is not resolved by you.”

QLDC responded, “The lease agreement between QLDC and QAC has not been made public on the reasoning of commercial sensitivity, in that there are concerns the commercial position of QAC would be unreasonably prejudiced by its release.”

The letter also expressed the same concern articulated by the Wanaka Sun last week in regards to the lack of an independent environmental assessment. “In your statement last week, you have not committed to a full and robust assessment of the environmental impacts of developing Wanaka Airport  — in fact you barely mention the environment. Yet your community has made it clear that the environment is of deep concern. A proper environmental impact analysis should be non-negotiable.” 

Ross goes further to demand that a steering group be established to sign off on the terms of reference that govern possible airport expansion, and that the WSG be on that group, in addition to the Wanaka Community Board and community association representatives. The Wanaka Sun has asked Mayor Boult whether this suggestion is a possibility but was told by a QLDC spokesperson, “QLDC will, of course, be fully transparent and open with the community in determining the future of this issue. However, due to the many and varied factors, as well as its specialist nature, QLDC feels it is most appropriate for professional organisations with extensive relevant experience to define the terms of reference, most effective approach and final scope.” Including expertise from Wanaka is explicit in its omission. 

But it was Boult’s previous statement in regards to the change that comes with growth that many in the WSG found patronizing. “Some embrace change, some are new to it and some are deeply challenged by it,” said Boult, as if the only reason to challenge the changes that come with rapid growth are because you are naive or afraid. 

Ross charged back, “When you talk about your constituents, you suggest that many of us can’t cope with aspects of growth, including getting our heads around the numbers. We can get our heads around them, but we are just alarmed by them.” 

The aspersion that opponents to unmitigated airport expansion are either naive or afraid, as opposed to rational, well-researched and seeking transparency has set blood boiling according to Mark Sinclair, deputy chair of WSG. 

Ross finished with an angry reference to Boult’s statement about the ‘clear stress, anxiety, dissent and downright vitriol that this issue is creating in both Queenstown and Wanaka.’ “That is an inaccurate and patronising description of the concerns raised by your community,” said Ross. “We have a different view: impassioned pleas from your constituents for our elected representatives to do what is right, and indeed what was required of you by law, and to consult the community is a world away from ‘vitriol’ —  this is a healthy example of our local democracy in action, holding the council (and Queenstown Airport Corporation) to account.”

The WSG made it clear that unless the issues are addressed satisfactorily, they will file a judicial review to seek the court’s assistance to ensure that full consultation, open-minded fresh decision-making and full reconsideration is given to the future of Wanaka Airport. “WSG would prefer to find a way to resolve this with the council without the need for judicial review proceedings, but it is in a position to do so if necessary,” said Sinclair.

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