We Love Wakatipu Inc oral submission to draft Spatial Plan hearing

WLW comment, 3 May 2021

We Love Wakatipu Inc chair Cath Gilmour presented the following submission to the draft Spatial Plan hearing panel, comprising central government, Kai Tahu and QLDC representatives under independent chair David Mead, on Monday, 3 May, 2021. You can read We Love Wakatipu’s full submission in our April 20 media update.


Kia ora, koutou.

Ko Cath Gilmour ahau, chair of We Love Wakatipu. Thank you for undertaking this huge mahi for the long-term well-being of our community and environment.

I’d like to start off with a quote from Colin Keel, ex-CEO of Queenstown Airport Corporation, from the International Airport Review of November 21, 2018, in which he said “One hundred years is a long time… Getting things done right for the long-term is more important than getting things done right now. We don’t want generations to come thinking “if only”…”

This was in the wake of Wakatipu feedback to QAC’s expansion plans but before the whiplash to their Wanaka pivot.

There have been a lot of times that I have not agreed with Colin – but in this case, he totally nailed it.

And tenei wa, tenei wahi – this time and this place – is our chance to do things right, for the long-term.

Unfortunately, by bowing to current political dictate, we seriously risk losing this opportunity.

As we outlined in our submission, the council has both ignored consistent and strong community opposition to airport noise expansion plans and forbidden discussion of alternative uses for ZQN land in all Spatial Plan, MartinJenkins and Frankton Master Plan consultation.

In Justice van Bohemen’s judgement overturning QLDC’s illegal Wanaka Airport lease, he pointed out that public consultation on QAC’s master planning would have limited scope for influencing proposed decisions, would be at QAC’s discretion and outside of the LGA process.

So we are left relying very much on this panel, with the much broader perspectives of Kai Tahu and central government, to ensure our community’s “best possible future” – as is your goal – is not sacrificed to short-term blinkered thinking focused on turbocharging tourism.

Given this kaupapa, would any spatial planner or urban designer suggest putting New Zealand’s most dangerous airport in the middle of the most developable, stable and valuable land in New Zealand’s premium tourism destination?

Or, even accepting its existence, force its continued growth and multiple damaging effects on an unwilling host community, when QAC could smash its passenger target just by insisting Air New Zealand and JetStar fly the far quieter and larger planes they already own?

(Unspoken NB: A321s are 75% quieter and 25% bigger than the old A320s.  And because the impact of noise is logarithmic, these together mean Queenstown Airport could be hosting 15 to 20 million passengers a year, not the 5.2 million QAC claim they are aiming at.)

Neither QAC nor council have acknowledged this publicly.  Nor pointed out that the ANB is the only legal structure we have to control tourism numbers.

While we acknowledge that current political council leadership, headed by the chair of the South Island’s largest tourism company, sees airport growth as vital to our community well-being – the huge majority of our community has clearly and repeatedly said they do not agree. 

Leadership changes.  And there is an election next year.

There are other hopeful signs of the possibility of a paradigm change, including:

  • Resource Management Act and Local Government Act reform.
  • A move to long-term, nationwide infrastructure planning.
  • Strong calls for a tourism reset.
  • Legislative pushes for stronger climate change policy responses – in NZ and globally – that will likely impact on long haul tourism.
  • The proposal for a low emissions international airport, five times the size of ZQN, at Tarras.

(Unspoken NB: This could be built to minimise emissions – by the planes that use it, in the construction of it versus the amount of concrete required to redevelop both Queenstown and Wanaka Airports, and the public transport networks that link to it. Plus the opportunities of opening ZQN land to dense, quality development that would reduce pressure to cover more of Wakatipu basin with low-density housing and its attendant diluted web of infrastructure. The budgets for both the Tarras and dual airport plans have been estimated at around $800 million each. WLW’s purpose is to stop expansion of the ANB but we support the call for community debate of alternative uses for ZQN land. If you want to read more about this, see http://www.FlightPlan2050.co.nz) 

Local body competition and 20th-century tourism thinking should not be allowed to result in three international airports being developed within 75kms of each other, for a total of $1.6 trillion.

For the Spatial Plan to totally ignore both the risks and the opportunities that the very real Tarras proposal presents seriously reduces its credibility and potentially pushes us down a route where suboptimal plans become concrete.

This draft Spatial Plan should have been the opportunity to have a real community discussion about the best use of this land in the heart of Frankton. It has not been.

Instead, the plan has seriously minimised the huge impacts of Queenstown Airport on the use of our most valuable whenua – not just ZQN, but the severe handbrake on development of all land within the expanded air noise boundary.

Together, these have forced the draft Spatial Plan into a corner whereby it accepts as inescapable fact what no spatial planner would ever recommend – without even being allowed to mention the compromises thus made.

Our submission also outlined some of the other consequences of ANB expansion – all of which negatively impact on the four well-beings QLDC is legally required to promote.

We laid out quite clearly the changes we think are needed to secure the best use of the whenua that is our most precious taonga – when political circumstances permit.  Most fundamental of these is ensuring the current air noise boundary cannot be expanded.

We do so because we are all kaitiaki – and this draft Spatial Plan is our best opportunity, through you, to exercise this guardianship in a way that achieves the well-being of both our whenua and our tangata, now and in the future.

Thank you, again.  For listening, for thinking, for caring – for both our land and our people.

I will give Colin Keel – the architect of QAC’s air noise expansion plans – the final word, to reiterate what he said so wisely two and a half long years ago:

“Getting things done right in the long-term is more important than getting things done right now”.

I’d be happy to answer any questions…

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