Majority of councillors capitulate to QAC control of our airport’s future direction

2022-06-30, Full Council, SOI, Cath

We Love Wakatipu Inc commentary, QLDC meeting 30 June 2022

Despite three times clearly instructing Queenstown Airport Corporation that councillors must give final approval of both the 10 year strategic plan and the airport masterplan before implementation, most councillors instead decided that showing their respect and trust for QAC was more important.

Regardless of the fact that QAC’s rejection of their governance for the Statement of Intent smacked of lack of respect and trust for them.  And that they have the legal right to require QAC to change the SOI to meet their strategic objectives and QAC must comply.

Below we provide a synopsis of who said what at QLDC’s 30 June meeting. But perhaps equally important was who chose to say nothing on what has been one of this council’s greatest governance failures.

Who did what?

Four councillors contributed nothing to the debate. So we don’t know why Crs Glyn Lewers, Heath Copland, Val Miller and Jim Boult voted to give QAC pretty much total control of Queenstown Airport’s future direction. In fact, we don’t remember Cr Copland ever saying anything in public on the airport. Cr ‘Ferg’ Ferguson was absent, but his voting record shows he tends to go with the Boult flow.

Cr Niki Gladding put a resolution to say no to the SOI until it committed to Council approval of Strategic Plan, seconded by Cr Esther Whitehead.

A brief synopsis of the minimal discussion that followed

Cr Niki Gladding:
QAC promised active involvement with councillors on the strategic plan, but in the year since, there has been none despite the SOI containing two pages of the bases thereof. Approving a plan without having seen it was a risk she was not prepared to take on behalf of ratepayers.

Cr Esther Whitehead:
This process again showed why a governance manual was needed, as their discussions and process just perpetuated confusion and time and time again, council was reactive. This wasn’t about trust but meeting council’s legal obligations. Agreeing to an SOI without commitment to council’s clear instructions on Strategic Plan approval did not achieve this.

Cr Niamh Shaw:
Important that both the Master Plan and Strategic Plan should be approved by council before implementation. The agenda item offered only one option, whereas they could also not agree to it and require the SOI be modified. Up to the June 2019 SOI agenda item, councillors were advised they had the “not agree” option. Somehow, since then, this has been removed from all council agendas referring to the SOI. Council’s statement of expectations was exceptionally clear, re-emphasised in April and again in May. Very little discussion of councillors’ responsibility to represent all community interests, not just the economy. No discussion re growth, nor destination management plan. 

No other councillors spoke to the amendment, so we have no idea what they thought (or whether they did). Only the three councillors who spoke voted for it.

So they moved to the substantive motion, that the SOI be agreed to despite it ignoring their governance instruction. Then who said what?

Cr Quentin Smith:
Was sympathetic to Cr Gladding’s motion but doesn’t think it’s helpful to decline another SOI when there’s been a substantial improvement in the relationship. Significantly better by requiring endorsement of Master Plan (WLW: no it doesn’t, just said QAC will seek endorsement, but preserves the right for QAC board to approve it regardless), Wanaka Airport being extracted and strong commitment to not expanding air noise boundaries. The difference between requiring and seeking endorsement is only semantics, and suggests it would be a very brave board if it chose to implement the strategic plan without Council approval. If there had been an easy way to require council approval of the Strategic Plan, he would have. (WLW: okay, so it’s easier to agree, but there is a legal and straightforward process to achieve what they said they wanted, which council can stipulate as majority shareholder under QAC’s constitution. And QAC’s 2010 sale of 24.99% of airport shares without informing, much less getting approval from, council suggests they are plenty brave enough.)

Cr Calum MacLeod:
Not a huge fan of alternative motions on the day, would have liked an opportunity to discuss it. (WLW: this meeting was that opportunity, unless he only wanted to do so behind closed doors rather than in public.) Borderline exhausted just trying to keep things in play. Not good enough to get alternatives half an hour before a meeting, despite having parts he agreed with. His discussions with the board and CEO suggest they are heading in the same direction, and in his humble opinion, there is no way councillors could reject another SOI. The community is hurting. But we do need to acknowledge the carbon footprint, that is the future, and the board needs to turn its mind to it. This year’s SOI is much better than previous ones.

Cr Penny Clark:
Councillors made a real commitment to building and restoring trust with QAC, have made some huge progress, and we’ve got to fulfill our part of the bargain here. Thinks we’re splitting hairs – endorsement means agree. (WLW: she doesn’t realise the primary issue is in the word “seek” versus “require” such endorsement, which isn’t splitting hairs, it’s council being given a brutal haircut.)  Board and chairman (WLW: the chair is a woman) working hard to build trust. Heard from a tourist yesterday that they loved our airport, wasn’t that nice to hear. Slightly spoiled because it took 45 minutes to drive into town, however we won’t go there. Be trusting in our board and CEO and move forward.

Cr Niki Gladding:
Speaking to her motion, motions need to be able to be made on the day and discussed in public at the meeting. Of course we can turn this down, the legal process is there for that specific reason. Not expressing distrust or disrespect, but do not see how it’s acceptable for QAC board to disregard our instructions but not for us to ask them to please change this one point. Respect and trust needs to both ways and it feels very one-sided. We have repeatedly pointed out this disregard of our instruction. Her obligation is not to the board and the board’s feelings. This is a legal arrangement, her obligations are to our community. And we shouldn’t forget what happened in 2010, when a few words were inserted in the SOI that didn’t look like anything at all, and from that had a 24.99 % share sale that councillors knew nothing of. Agreeing to the SOI would mean councillors were allowing an entire plan that we don’t understand the nature or scope of to sit within our SOI. That’s so irresponsible and it’s a massive risk that everyone’s taking on behalf of the ratepayers.

Cr Esther Whitehead:
Zoom out and stop talking about trust issues, it’s about our partnership agreement. This is about process, not people. It’s about securing agreement that fulfills obligations to both parties. What’s happening with our carbon offsets? That’s what this is about.

Councillors Whitehead, Shaw, Gladding and Smith voted against agreeing to the SOI.

All others voted in favour of it, despite QAC ignoring their thrice expressed and explicit governance requiring Council approval of strategic and master plans for this community’s most valuable land resource.

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