SOE debate nixes Air Noise Boundary expansion and ramps up QAC governance

WLW commentary on QLDC meeting, 4 February 2022

Great work by three of our councillors led to considerable steps forward in QLDC’s governance of Queenstown Airport Corporation during yesterday’s marathon meeting. 

At issue was an inadequate draft statement of expectations for QAC. This is the first step in the statement of intent process, through which council legally has ultimate control over QAC. The SOI is meant to contain the strategic objectives Council wants QAC to achieve and be aligned to council’s mandate of enabling democracy and promoting community well-being.

Councillors Niamh Shaw, Niki Gladding and Esther Whitehead turned around three years of increasingly hands-off, tone-deaf, strategy-deficient governance led by council’s senior management and governance team.

Resultant changes were significant – and largely in line with what We Love Wakatipu Inc advocates have been repeatedly calling for since QAC first proposed expanding its Air Noise Boundaries in 2018. 

In particular – nixing airport noise boundary expansion for the next decade, requiring meaningful council input and community consultation on airport plans, and removing reference to wide-bodied jets, which would never be able to land at the too-short ZQN runway. (See previous public forum submission post for details.)

We are disappointed they did not remove the requirement that QAC build shareholder growth. This is not a legal requirement. And it has been used for years to justify pushing airport growth ahead of community well-being objectives, which are QLDC’s legally mandated responsibility.  Next year…

At the end of an at times lively – or, in the eyes of Cr Penny Clark, “dog’s dinner” – debate lasting some two hours, a total of nine (we think) amendments and additional resolutions were passed on the original staffers’ draft SOE.

We say “we think” because when Cr MacLeod asked if someone could clarify exactly where the substantive resolution ended up after all the amendments and extra resolutions, he was told that “technical advice” was no, they could not do so.

Mayor Boult assured him that he had seen two staffers take good notes and he trusted them.  So, saying, immediately after this assurance, two staff members had different interpretations of one of the amendments…

We acknowledge zoom meetings aren’t easy, but the current council’s relaxed approach to governance process needs to be sharper. Even by the time they put it to the vote, the substantive motion was still not available for councillors or the watching public to see.

So, we don’t know if Mayor Boult’s move at the start of the meeting to remove reference to wide-bodied jets made the cut.  No one disagreed, but no vote was held on it. We assume the minutes will retrospectively make it a formal part of the final motion. Neither we nor our representatives should have to rely on assumptions about the wording of critical votes.

So here is our record of the amendments and resolutions and who voted for what, with added comment where relevant notes were taken:

Cr Niamh Shaw’s amendments:

a. A clear and explicit statement that consultation will be QLDC-led.

Shaw: consultation led by QAC is under their control, for their purposes and not under Local Government Act auspices. Lack of public trust in this. Council control would mean official and transparent process, aimed at achieving council’s mandated purposes.

Vote: Won. Mayor Boult and Cr Lewers voted against.

b. The Strategic Plan and Master Plan must be formally agreed by full council before implementation.

Shaw: required for proper governance of QAC by QLDC. (Some councillors push for this last year, but did not win majority support.)

Vote: Won. Unanimous.

c. Instead of: “as owner of Wānaka Airport, QLDC acknowledges the relationship with QAC to continue with the day-to-day management of the airport. Although not entirely pertinent to the QAC, to note QLDC is not contemplating or planning for the introduction of wide-bodied jets at Wānaka airport. Although the QAC statement of intent’s focus will be Queenstown…”     To read: “Wānaka Airport is under ownership and control of QLDC. In relation to Wānaka Airport, QAC provides a management service agreement. The QAC SOI scope is limited to Queenstown Airport.”

Shaw: QAC no longer has the lease of Wānaka Airport, overturned as illegal by the High Court last year, and so this SOI is irrelevant to it.

Vote: Lost. Crs Gladding, Shaw, Smith and Whitehead voted for it.

Cr Niki Gladding’s amendments:

d. Under strategic direction add: the scope of the QAC Ten-Year Plan and Masterplan must be clearly outlined in the SOI.

Vote: Won. Crs Lewers and Miller voted against.

e. Under strategic direction add: the QAC TYP must clearly align with QLDC’s Well-Being Framework* and its relevant outputs, including the Climate and Biodiversity Action Plan* (*under development).

Vote: Won. Mayor Boult and Crs Clark and Lewers voted against.

f. Strategic direction (c) to read: the QAC Ten-Year Plan must offer certainty that airport operations will remain within the Queenstown Airport Air Noise Boundaries for the next 10 years.

Vote: Won. Cr Clark voted against.

Cr Esther Whitehead’s amendment:

g. Strategic direction (E) to read: the Ten-Year Plan will consider potential commercial/viable utilisation of Queenstown Airport land to shape the strategic direction to enable visitors to use transport networks and encourage mode shift from private vehicles in line with QLDC’s Climate Action Plan, the QLDC 2050 vision, and the Whaiora Grow Well Spatial Plan.

Vote: Won. Unanimous.

Additional resolutions:

Cr Whitehead:

QLDC officers will consider a QAC CCTO governance manual in the 2023 cycle of the SOE, SOI for QAC and report back to full council on its recommendations.

Whitehead: Confusion, community opposition and Judicial Review show the current process is not working. Independent review of Auckland Council’s CCOs suggests we can better govern this entity. Some staff have criticised such a manual as unnecessary and not legally required. Similar to a prenuptial agreement: can still achieve high trust, while protecting all parties.

Vote: Won. Cr Copland voted against.

Cr Shaw:

QLDC will review the QAC constitution by August, 2022.

Shaw: Judicial Review highlighted that the current constitution focuses on the best interests of the corporation, not the shareholders (as did Auditor General review of QAC’s sale of 24.99% of ZQN in 2010). Legal review under council auspices would ensure community’s best interests are central, as QLDC is the super-majority shareholder. Council could have saved a lot on legal costs (e.g. JR) with better process and structure.

Miller: as directed by 2021 SOI, the constitution was legally reviewed by QAC last year and found fit for purpose. However, it did not come back to Council for discussion or information, just okayed by CEO Mike Theelen. An independent council review would “cost a lot – it’s a legal review”.

Vote: Lost. Crs Gladding, Shaw, Smith and Whitehead voted for it.

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