YAY – public submissions mean airport dominance of Frankton Flats no longer guaranteed.

We Love Wakatipu Inc commentary, 1 September 2021

Below is We Love Wakatipu Inc’s analysis of the final 2021 Spatial Plan. Synopsis – a considerable improvement on the draft, with room for real community input and council control of the airport, not vice versa, once the council leadership team changes.

Wording changes to the Spatial Plan made in response to public submissions appear to recognise that the continued airport growth in the middle of Wakatipu’s most usable land is not the wisest long-term spatial strategy.

And to offer the opportunity to change that paradigm and the resultant use of this limited and valuable land under future reviews. If you want to know more detail, put your feet up and read our analysis below.

Also, you can read WLW’s Spatial Plan submission here.  And FlightPlan 2050’s submission here.

Our analysis of the Spatial Plan

The first Queenstown Lakes Spatial Plan was finalised last month and adopted by Council. It is the product of collaboration between our council, Ngai Tahu and the government. Its purpose is “strategically visioning the best outcomes for our communities based on projected growth”.

More on that later. We will first concentrate on the plan as it specifically relates to ZQN.

The district’s airports and growth in general with the two top submission themes, unsurprisingly.

QLDC’s agenda report from July 29 said they heard “various views about the future of the Queenstown airport.” It was notable, however, that none of the comments suggested support for current expansion plans. Instead, submitters were concerned the airport had been taken as a “given” within the plan, that the Tarras Airport scenario should be included, asked that the plan state the airport could not expand and that it might be shifted to enable all Frankton Flats to be developed.

The hearing panel, however, said the Spatial Plan “cannot and should not direct how the airports in the district are to be operated.”

Fair enough. But it could have been a whole lot more specific as to the spatial implications of continuation, expansion or removal of airport operations.

But on the other hand, the panel did tweak the Spatial Plan’s wording to show that there were such implications, which had not been a feature of the first iteration – as We Love Wakatipu and other groups and individuals pointed out in our submissions.

We appreciate that we were heard and, within the bounds of what was probably achievable under the current council leadership team, changes were made.

The July 29 agenda also stated that the panel agreed that the plan “should be clear about the strategic importance of Frankton, the Five Mile corridor and the Queenstown-Frankton corridor for accommodating future growth in the Wakatipu Basin. The plan should be more explicit about the key trade-offs between growth in these locations and airport operations. That is, the Spatial Plan should set out the longer-term urban contexts that QAC would need to work within.”

Okay, so it didn’t actually get explicit about what these key trade-offs were or set out the longer-term urban contexts for QAC, as elaborated further on. Hopefully that will happen to the next review - and meanwhile, give a swerve to QAC.

And further, “while the Spatial Plan for Wakatipu Basin proposes extensions to the south and east, these corridors meet at Frankton where substantial intensification on land not currently encumbered by airport noise controls is clearly beneficial to long-term aspirations for a compact, connected urban form.”

That sounds like a pretty strong indication that ZQN’s Air Noise Boundaries (ANB) should not be expanded. Well done, panel. Will councillors take heed? 

The panel’s report continues: “We do not see the need at this stage to develop a ‘without airport’ scenario. An airport icon could be added to the maps to reflect current use, while noting that any moves to decrease use of the airport (or shift it in the long-term) can be addressed in reviews of the plan, but that is not an outcome that the plan advocates for in the short to medium term.”

The panel report also said it had revised the spatial element section to be more explicit about the trade-off being made between urban growth and future expansion of ANB’s.

We couldn’t see this, as elaborated below.

Moving specifically to the Spatial Plan, some highlights/lowlights for detail-lovers follow:

Page 38: “The current air noise boundary and national electricity grid transmission corridor restrict some development outcomes in parts of Frankton and the Frankton to Queenstown corridor.”

So much for explicit trade-offs! Like not mentioning QAC succeeding at every resource management decision-making forum for years in preventing any ASANs (activities sensitive to air noise, such as building affordable homes or worker accommodation) on much of this land. And ensuring non-complaints covenants on all nearby developments. And the shape of the crazy Urban Canyon (it ain’t a corridor) along 5 Mile - snaking along the outer perimeter of the current ANB.

Page 42, Challenges and Opportunities: highlighted the need for diversification considering our tourism dependence (63% of jobs and 55% of GDP pre-Covid) and affordable housing. Mentions Queenstown’s role as a domestic and international tourism gateway compounds these and congestion, emissions, and safety issues.

Page 44: “Air conductivity is a key component of the transport system and vital to the economic and social well-being of Queenstown Lakes.”

Well, actually, there are big question marks over the social well-being side of this statement, as they would know from MartinJenkins report, the Quality-Of-Life surveys they later quote and three years of consistent community opposition to yet more connectivity being proposed by QAC.

And further on: “Future development constraints and opportunities at both Queenstown and Wanaka airport need to be carefully managed to maintain strong connectivity while protecting the local environments they operate in. Recent proposals to investigate a new airport at Tarras… highlight the ongoing confidence that the wider aviation industry has maintaining and growing capacity and services across the region.”

Notable for not mentioning QAC’s proposal to expand Queenstown Airport’s ANB. Nor the MartinJenkins report re-loss of social licence, over-tourism and community opposition. Interesting they say “recent proposals” – there is just one, from Christchurch International Airport Ltd, and by spending $45 million on five times as much land as ZQN has, it has moved a bit beyond a “proposal”. And a bit weird pitching it as a statement of aviation industry confidence - it’s a council CCTO proposal, not the aviation industry’s.  And more relevantly for our 30-year Spatial Plan, it is a major opportunity for Wakatipu Basin.

Changing climate …..

No mention was made within this section of the impact of future policies to mitigate this on global long-haul travel and therefore, our tourism industry.

Community cohesion: the report acknowledges that rapid growth has put pressure on social infrastructure and facilities “in some neighbourhoods”, and that the Mood of The Nation and Quality of Life surveys demonstrate QLD residents feel under pressure from visitors. “Here the tourism industry is aware that the hospitality and manaakitaka of residents is an essential component of visitor experience. In the context of the Covid 19 pandemic, the community is in the process of redefining this relationship.”

Really? How and where and with whom? No acknowledgement in this section that over-tourism had compromised social licence prior to Covid and that no amount of supposed redefinition of this relationship would overcome this issue long-term. 

Page 58-59, Spatial Elements, Wakatipu: “Frankton is of strategic importance to achieving the consolidated approach to growth. This is due to its significant development potential and access from the frequent public transport network. Queenstown Airport is the largest single land use in the Frankton metropolitan area and is a key entry point to the region and to New Zealand. It is a strategic asset. It is desirable for land uses in Frankton to be maximised, requiring careful management of the interface between airport operations and the communities of Frankton who are impacted by its operation.”

The panel’s report said the Spatial Plan should be more explicit about trade-offs being made between urban growth and future expansion of airport noise boundaries. No mention of proposed expansion or its multiple ramifications. No mention of the possible removal of the airport. No mention of the huge impacts of the existing ANB on use (activities allowed and density thereof) of the West – East corridor or broader Frankton Flats.  Nor the potential of housing some 10,000 or more people on a rezoned ZQN.  If that’s their “explicit,” I’d hate to see their “vague”!

Page 66, Strategy 1, increased density in appropriate locations …

No mention is made of the fact that three of Wakatipu’s four priority development areas have activities and densities severely constrained by the current airport ANB. And this would be even more so if it were expanded.

Ladies Mile is described as “a new transit-oriented neighbourhood offering new housing choices.”

We are guessing that the descriptor “transit-oriented” is code for “residents stuck in their cars to get anywhere and back,” unless modal shift really does work. And any “new housing choice” will likely require legislative enforcement, as developers prefer more lucrative low-density development to affordable/medium density housing.

Page 72, major infrastructure projects relating to the East-West Corridor, Five Mile and Ladies Mile.

Good to see that most of these major infrastructure projects are scheduled to occur beyond the next 10 years and subject to further investigation. By then, we should know whether Tarras International Airport takes off and if so, more sensible options for Frankton development could go ahead under a later iteration of this Spatial Plan.
Page 78, except that priority initiatives to be advanced by the partnership’s joint work programme include unlocking these same development areas…
Page 87, lovely touch that someone put Tarras on the Queenstown Lakes transport route map - certainly a much shorter subregional public transport vision than Queenstown to Wanaka!

Page 90-92, outcome three: a sustainable tourism system: “The rapid increase in visitors has stretched infrastructure networks and is putting pressure on the environment and the community. Better coordination is needed to ensure visitors tread lightly and are a welcome contributor to the social, economic, cultural and environmental story of the Queenstown Lakes.”

Better coordination of tourists is not going to overcome community hostility and loss of social licence once over-tourism returns.  No matter how well coordinated, we will still trip over them. Similarly, the mooted Destination Management Strategy won’t help if the overall objective remains tourism growth. Only one of the 14 areas such a strategy would cover relates to community and “representative community participation” does not mean the same as “effective community representation”.

Page 94, Strategy 10: promote a car-free destination: Envisages public transport connections between Queenstown, Wanaka and Cromwell.  “This would provide options for residents and visitors to travel conveniently around Queenstown Lakes without needing a car and has the potential to link to new airport services in the future.”

Another wee spark of possible openness going forward, even if Tarras isn’t included as a possible link on the map this time.

Page 99, outcome four: well-designed neighbourhoods that provide for everyday needs: “Increasing densities and the redevelopment of sites can often make it difficult for social infrastructure to be provided retrospectively. This highlights the need for areas to be planned in their entirety to ensure the everyday needs of the community are met locally.”

This is not We Love Wakatipu’s argument, but surely FlightPlan 2050’s proposal for a well-planned, dense, connected mixed use urban development on current ZQN land, which already has much of this infrastructure, should at least be considered within an open, objective 30-year Spatial Plan “envisioning the best outcomes for our communities”?

Page 105-106, outcome five: a diverse economy where everyone can thrive: “A more diversified economy will insure against such significant shocks, supporting the tourism industry to continue to deliver an exceptional visitor experience whilst protecting the well-being of local communities.”

Really?  Should the success of our diversified economy be measured by the level of support it gives the tourism industry to continue? And why not aim to have this diversification contribute to our community’s well-being - not just protect us against negative impacts of over-tourism? 

Page 105, the first two Spatial Plan priority initiatives are:

  1. Review zoning and other levers to enable higher densities and more flexible use of land within the existing and new urban areas in appropriate locations identified in the Spatial Plan.
  2. Use the Grow Well/Whaiora Urban Growth Partnership to improve alignment and coordination to unlock joint priority development areas including Ladies Mile, 5 Mile Urban Corridor, Queenstown Town Centre to Frankton Corridor…
Experience shows us time and time again that QAC will abort any attempt to allow ASANs (activities sensitive to air noise) or high density within the ANB and beyond, to prevent any possibility of reverse sensitivity crimping their style. Existing Ladies Miles subdivisions already have no complaints covenants on property titles, per favour of QAC. The full potential of these joint priority development areas cannot be “unlocked” with the airport in situ or ANB expanded, because activities and densities would remain extremely constrained.
Spatial Plan Details

This first Queenstown Lakes Spatial Plan will be reviewed in two more years. It sits atop the planning hierarchy, providing long-term strategic direction that guides the District Plan, 10 Year Plan, 30 Year Infrastructure Strategy, Climate Action Plan and all the more detailed, lower-level strategies and plans that feed into them. It will be reviewed by 2023, to feed into the council’s next 10 Year Plan. After that, it will be reviewed every three years.

It was required by government because of Queenstown being, pre-pandemic, one of New Zealand’s fastest-growing districts. It will drive a joint work programme between the three entities who took part in formulating the Spatial Plan – government, QLDC and Ngai Tahu. The primary government entities involved were Waka Kotahi, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and Ministry of Housing.

See the wee airport logo in the middle of the designated Frankton Metropolitan area – definitely not in proportion to its landholding and certainly not its huge effects! The airport’s associated air noise boundaries will always constrain development in Five Mile, Remarkables Park and along the East-West Corridor. Source: P.58, The Queenstown Lakes Spatial Plan
These effects are more obvious in this image, where we overlay the airport property, runway and proposed air noise boundaries. The clarity of this impact is not visible in the Spatial Plan.

The Plan’s three principles are:

  • Well-being: decisions about growth recognise social, economic, environmental and cultural considerations.
  • Resilience: ensuring communities and visitors are resilient to shocks of the future, including adapting to climate change.
  • Sustainability: programmes and activities are delivered according to sustainable development principles and work toward zero emissions.

And the five outcomes:

  • Consolidated growth and more housing choice.
  • Public transport, walking and cycling is the preferred option for daily travel.
  • A sustainable tourism system.
  • Well-designed neighbourhoods that provide for everyday needs.
  • A diverse economy where everyone can thrive.

They say the devil is in the detail. You can read all 116 pages of it on this link!

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