From the beautiful offices of We Love Wakatipu Inc’s Protect Queenstown campaign…

May 24, 2021

Dear all,

it’s been a long time since a We Love Wakatipu Inc catch up newsletter, and a heck of a lot has been happening despite Covid 19’s aviation and global tourism slowdown.

We will keep it as short as we can by including links to our Facebook posts so that those who want to take deeper dives into the issues can do so. So grab a coffee or something stiffer and here’s your chance to catch up with happenings on the QAC and council fronts over the last 6 months.

Council by-election – happening now!

If you are a registered Wakatipu ward voter, you should have received your voting papers. Your choice is between retired lawyer, rugby stalwart and community man Phil Wilson, father of Mayor Boult’s executive assistant, or businesswoman, local Kiwi Harvest founder, sustainability and community advocate Esther Whitehead. Read here for their views on airports, growth and how they might help our local democracy work better.

In summary, it is a choice between same old same old or the chance to move our council towards a more democratic, representative and thinking model. This link also says what to do if you haven’t received your voting papers, who is eligible to vote and how to get on the special roll if you aren’t registered. You need to get your papers into council by noon on June 11.

In case the above was too subtle, please vote for Esther if you want to Protect Queenstown! (PS Emily Rutherford has withdrawn her candidacy.  Please don’t waste your vote.)

High Court overturns Council’s illegal Wanaka Airport lease

Council has announced they won’t appeal the High Court’s judgement that their 100-year lease of Wanaka Airport to QAC was illegal because of inadequate consultation and improper process.  Here is a news item on the judgement and here is  Cr Niamh Shaw’s post showing some of the reasoning behind it.

We don’t know what the impacts of this will be for council’s and QAC’s much vaunted “dual airport strategy,” which relies on development of Wanaka Airport to absorb the excess millions of passengers that ZQN’s runway can never be lengthened enough for. It is highly unlikely it will be the end of QAC’s and council’s push in this direction. 

But at least council leadership and the executive team have decided not to waste even more hundreds of thousands of ratepayer dollars trying to justify their illegal and poor process to push purposes contrary to clearly stated community wishes.

Council’s 10-year plan

Minimal mention of airports or climate change mitigation in this supposedly strategic document, beyond that council “expects” QAC to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Note that this is ground operations only – it does not include flights. Really?  Our councillors don’t expect QAC to be capable of reaching this non-stretch target for another 29 years? Wow. Christchurch International Airport is already just 10% short of ground ops carbon neutrality.  Maybe we should get them to run our airports as well as Tarras :-)?

Draft spatial plan

This tripartite plan – with central government (NZTA and MBIE), Kai Tahu and QLDC at the table – will guide long-term infrastructural investment by all three entities throughout Queenstown Lakes District for the next 30 years.

The draft plan has two basic assumptions – continued growth of both airports in situ, and continued visitor/population growth at pre-Covid levels.

Here is our written submission, pointing out that these assumptions ignore community well-being (council’s mandated responsibility) and strong feedback across multiple consultation documents, along with other fundamental flaws.

Here is our five minutes’ input to the joint hearing.

We and others, including Kelvin Peninsula Community Association and FlightPlan2050, also pointed out that the purposeful omission of even considering alternative ZQN land uses in the face of the Tarras International Airport proposal, due to paradigms set by Council’s current political and executive leadership, undermines the document’s vital purpose of planning for the district’s best potential future.

Colin Keel resigns

After five turbulent years, the day after the PM announced the Australian travel bubble, QAC CEO and air noise expansion plan architect Colin Keel resigned in early April.  There weren’t many times we agreed with Colin – so we were thrilled to be able to use the above quote as part of our draft spatial plan submission. Well done, Colin, you nailed it.

Covid 19 and climate change mitigation policy impacts on aviation?

These two issues remain front of mind for many people across the world, with much media coverage and discussion of the inevitable long-term impacts on global aviation and tourism. Even Air New Zealand’s chief environmental advisor came out supporting price hikes to curb “thoughtless, heedless tourism” and said the idea of returning to pre-Covid levels of international tourism is wholly inappropriate.

Both Climate Change Commissioner Rod Carr and Parliament Commissioner of the Environment Simon Upton published independent reports highlighting the negative impacts of pre-Covid levels of tourism and aviation and calling for urgent action on climate change and environmental degradation.

But did our councillors hear?

Apparently not! Despite some fine words from Deputy Mayor Calum MacLeod in a social media post, only Crs Niamh Shaw, Niki Gladding and Quentin Smith stuck to their election hustings promises and voted against allowing Air Noise Boundary (ANB) expansion in their statement of expectation and statement of intent (SOI) votes.

It is this SOI process through which both QAC and QLDC lawyers told the High Court judge last November, when fighting for the legitimacy of their Wanaka Airport lease, that council had “total control” of QAC. You might remember all but Mayor Boult (and Arrowtown’s Cr Heath Copland) promised to oppose ANB expansion when asking us to vote for them. 

In less than two years, in an incredibly inefficient, opaque and undemocratic process, the majority of councillors have voted four times for inadequate SOIs that do not stipulate QAC must operate within its ANBs.

Here’s what they said when they had the very real chance to put their election rhetoric into action late last year and again in late January, and instead chose not to. Good to keep in mind if they seek re-election next year.

Then of course, there’s Tarras International Airport…

As we spluttered into our coffee at the irony of Mr Boult’s environmental ire, ButtScuttle kindly encapsulated the inherent contradictions for us.

This will no doubt be an ongoing issue for our district. The existence and/or growth of the three proposed or actual international airports, within 50 km of each other, is opposed by all three host communities.  Driven by competing local authorities and nominally council-controlled trading organisation (CCTO) airport companies, this complex and uncoordinated infrastructural interplay raises huge issues of democracy, councillor capacity and control, over-tourism, climate change mitigation and the best use of our country’s land resource.

The issues are complex and will no doubt continue to be debated as Christchurch International Airport Ltd (which Mr Boult used to be CEO of) continues with its plans, first announced late last July.  Hyperbole will also no doubt continue – like the claim that 10,000 people would be impacted on by fumes, noise and lights should Tarras International Airport get the go-ahead.  Definitely worth checking the graphic in our post showing the relative impacts of 12 km perimeter circles around Tarras, Wanaka and Queenstown airports. 

In terms of complexity and importance of the decisions to be made, this debate should be held at NZ Inc level – not decided by competing councils based on their sometimes conflicted interests, siloed and narrow thinking, paltry ‘our patch’ perspective and inadequate information.

That pretty much catches us up. Phew

Please make sure you vote in time to make it count so we can start the change we need in how our council operates – transparently, without conflicts of interest, with enquiring minds and community wellbeing and feedback at its core.

Here’s hoping that maybe this year’s QAC statement of intent might finally reflect the big fat loud NO our community has repeatedly said to more noise at Queenstown Airport. Council’s forecast is that growth will return to pre-Covid levels within five years, so all those multiple downstream ramifications of excessive airport noise that we have all campaigned against will still happen, just five years later.  We should see the next SOI before council in late June.

It would be great if you could please forward this to others who might not yet know about We Love Wakatipu Inc and our Protect Queenstown campaign to make sure Council and QAC do listen to our community and stop ANB expansion. As you know, it costs nothing and takes less than a minute to join.  Growing our membership helps give us strength and makes sure more of our community is informed. Our time is consumed with research, lobbying and communication, so your support in letting people know about our work (voluntary) and purpose would be much appreciated:-)! If every WLW Inc member forwarded this to 10 others who all joined up, that would be great. And please follow us on Facebook to keep up more regularly with the relevant issues and events that will help us all Protect Queenstown.  Because it’s precious.

Ngā mihi nui,

Cath Gilmour, We Love Wakatipu Inc chair

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