Online feedback on the future of airports in the district was launched last Thursday, February 20, as part of the ongoing “conversation” between Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) and the community.
According to QLDC, the consultant engaged to undertake these conversations, MartinJenkins, took insight from focus groups held last week to share a “set of key questions,” giving participants the opportunity to comment on various possible scenarios in an online survey.
However, the survey immediately attracted criticism from residents and local groups on a number of levels. “Since it went live 24 hours ago, we’ve received a steady flow of messages from members complaining about the survey (both content and functionality),” read the Wānaka Stakeholders Group (WSG) website. “Having reviewed it closely, we are even more concerned than before that this consultation process is skewed and broken.”
Michael Ross, Chair of WSG, subsequently wrote to MartinJenkins on Monday outlining six “significant concerns” with the survey. These included that some antivirus software identified a security issue with the site, meaning people were blocked from completing it, that members found questions “ambiguous and/or vague,” and at times “leading or misleading,” and that the airport scenarios provided did not cover all meaningful options.
"The scenario of introducing just ATRs/turbo-props into Wānaka Airport is not even offered. And yet this was one scenario which got significant support in our forum. The forums were — we were advised — to inform and refine the online questionnaire," wrote Ross.
He also noted that, because there was no unique identifier for those taking the survey, there was a “real possibility” that individuals or organisations could answer multiple times, and that results could be “gamed.”
Finally, Mr Ross concluded that the online survey "does not meet even entry level best practice standards for a consultative exercise of this importance. Trust in the process is very, very low."
MartinJenkins responded on Tuesday, but did not uphold the concerns expressed by WSG on behalf of the community.
With regard to the technical issues with the survey, Principal Consultant Jason Leung-Wai stated that an open and anonymous survey would capture “a range of perspectives rather than generate a statistically representative sample,” and “the findings will not be materially affected by multiple responses.” He added that the survey was using an established secure platform, and having currently received over 1,200 responses, the company had received “only a few requests for technical support,” only two of which related to being blocked by Norton Antivirus.
Leung-Wai acknowledged that the survey was not straightforward due to the “inherent complexity of the topic,” but dismissed WSG’s concerns when he said “survey responses received thus far suggest that people are generally able to understand and respond to the questions, which are deliberately broad in nature.”
In response to concern around the scenarios provided, Leung-Wai wrote, “The scenarios are hypothetical and represent a broad spectrum of options rather than detailed options. They are sufficiently different to allow us to capture the variety of perspectives on how positive and negative impacts may change depending upon the scenario.” He added that by asking how scenarios might be improved, the survey provided opportunity “for commenting on other options, such as the ATR-turbo-prop only option.”
Leung-Wai echoed Mayor Boult and QLDC’s repeated affirmations when he said “this is not a formal consultation process on detailed options but rather stakeholder and community engagement to inform our analysis.”
Meanwhile, WSG continues to encourage all members of the community to get involved. “Despite all of this, we strongly recommend that you complete the survey,” reads the website. Although WSG intend to challenge the validity of the process, “the community should voice its concerns loud and clear, so that QLDC can’t say, ‘you didn’t turn up.’”
The survey is open to all who live here, used to live here, own a property or business here, or are just passing through. It can be completed at this address until Wednesday, March 11: https://letstalk.qldc.govt.nz/airport-impact-assessments.