The Statement of Claim brought by the Wānaka Stakeholders Group and the Statements of Defence by Queenstown Lakes District Council and Queenstown Airport Corporation show the depth of locked horns on the issue of Wānaka Airport development.
The extensive documentation can be boiled down to a handful of core claims: WSG alleges that QLDC acted unlawfully in granting a 100-year lease to QAC by acting outside of its delegation of authority.
They also allege that the ‘Perpetual Lease and Asset Sale agreement’ (officially titled the Memorandum of Lease), in essence, constitutes a sale — whilst the land itself is leased, the existing runway, taxiway, apron, roads and carparks, buildings, building fit out, portable buildings and other plant equipment were sold to QAC. WSG also alleges that the purchase of just over $12million worth of surrounding land by QAC in 2016-17 also reveals that QAC had bigger aspirations for Wānaka Airport than what were being disclosed at the time. WSG states that the purchase of the surrounding land was not only not revealed to the public, it wasn’t even stated in the 2106 Statement of Intent to QLDC.
In their response, QAC stated, “It admits that the statement of intent dated 30 June 2016 did not refer to those parcels of land but … a decision to purchase land adjacent to the airport would not need to be specifically identified in the statement of intent.”
WSG alleges “side agreements” and “plans to develop the airport” have been deliberately withheld from the public however QAC’s response, bluntly states, “It did not have "plans" as alleged.” QLDC responds that there were no ‘side agreements’ except “two side letters relating to matters of access, registration and new water supply services to the boundary of Wānaka Airport Land.” Over the last year, the existence of secret side agreements has been alluded to by WSG as a smoking gun of proof that QLDC and QAC have been planning a jet-capable airport from the very beginning; however the revelation in the court documents that the only side agreements are in relation to access, registration and water suggests that those allegations are unfounded.
However, the sticking point which the judicial review needs to clarify is whether the Perpetual Lease and Asset Sale Agreement surmounted, in effect, to an actual sale as claimed by WSG. They have claimed that the lease gave effective ownership of the airport to QAC, with legal ownership of the airport assets; it also had the effect of permitting QAC to develop make the airport jet-capable; gave QAC control over the development and/or relocation of Project Pure; and required QLDC to buy-back all the assets and surrounding land at the end of the perpetual lease in the event the lease was not continued. On this, WSG says had not had “proper and lawful consultation,” were “significant decisions” within the Local Government Act, and were beyond the delegated authority given to council.
In its response, QLDC stated that they deny the allegations, pointing out that “the SOP made clear that control of Wānaka Airport would remain with QLDC, including through the statement of intent process; and the terms of the Lease are consistent with QLDC retaining control of Wānaka Airport.”
A consistent theme in the Statement of Claim, which has also been on repeat on social media for the last two years, is the lack of consultation on the lease and the future plans for the airport. WSG insists that the views and preferences of the persons most likely affected by the new airport, “would have been and continue to be opposed to the real objective of QLDC and QAC,” but that their views were never given consideration.
In response, QLDC, said, “that significant community consultation and engagement has been carried out.”
QLDC has requested that the case be dismissed on the grounds that WSG waited too long to launch their objections to the lease however WSG pointed out that the details of the lease were only released in September 2019.
The war of [legal] words has reportedly not had any of the three parties involved shaking in their boots. Mark Sinclair from WSG stated that their lawyers only undertook the case because they believe their case is legally sound. “We would not bring judicial review proceedings unless we believed we had good grounds to do so and therefore a significant prospect of succeeding. We have representation from senior barristers including two Queens Counsel with substantial experience in judicial review matters,” said WSG in a statement to its members. It also noted that they are receiving significant pro-bono contributions from their legal team.
However, a source from one of the respondents has said that there is little concern in their organisation in regards to the judicial review because they believe WSG’s claims to be unfounded.
According to QAC’s Interim Financial Report, the legal costs accrued for this case up until December 2019 are $110,000. QLDC has not released what this case is costing the ratepayer so far.
All documents relating to the case are available here