Airport governance – 2022 QLDC mayoral candidates state their stance

On the QLDC election hustings three years ago, every candidate but for Jim Boult and Heath Copland promised to oppose air noise boundary expansion at Queenstown Airport. Most of them broke that promise.

Poor governance of Queenstown Airport Corporation by Council has been a serious issue over this past term, as proper process and democracy were ignored in favour of a pro-growth agenda.

So this election, We Love Wakatipu Inc wrote to all mayoral and Wakatipu ward councillor candidates to get their election commitments in writing.  So that voters know what they are voting for and in the hope that it will lead to more integrity between campaign promises and successful candidates’ actions.  Note those who didn’t find time to respond, despite two reminders and a deadline extension.

We also took the opportunity to give a brief “airport governance 101” backgrounder so that new councillors know they have the legal power to direct QAC strategic directives and scope of activities. And to help them recognise when they are being fed inaccurate or inadequate advice.

The questions we asked:

  1. Queenstown Airport air noise boundary expansion?
  2. What should be council’s role in the airport’s strategic planning for use of ZQN land in the next 30 to 50 years: Hands On or Hands Off?
  3. Tourism growth – your approach?
  4. Community involvement?
  5. Council-led legal review of the QAC constitution?
  6. Council sign-off required on the 10-year Strategic Plan?
  7. Council sign-off required on the Airport Master Plan?
  8. Should QLDC investigate what opportunities/risks exist if Tarras International Airport gets the go-ahead?

Candidates are listed in the order we received their response, and the answers are presented as they were written.

Scroll the page or go directly to:

LINK to: Jon Mitchell, Al Angus, Neeta Shetty, Glyn Lewers, Olivia Wensley


Jon Mitchell

Jon Mitchell: photo supplied

Queenstown Airport air noise boundary expansion?

NO.

With improving technology, enabling quieter and more efficient aircraft, there is no need to expand the boundaries.

What should be council’s role in the airport’s strategic planning for use of ZQN land in the next 30 to 50 years: Hands On or Hands Off?

Hands On

Council should take considerably more of a leadership role in the future direction of the airport, in relation to providing a clear statement of expectations to the QAC board each year, allowing time between receiving the QAC statement of intent to consider and, if necessary, publicly consult on the statement of intent, as well as ensuring the QAC strategic plan is fully consulted on each time it updated.

Beyond that, the next spatial plan process should be far more inclusive and flexibly future-focused, including consideration of all potential future uses of the land that Queenstown Airport is located on, to provide for and manage significant changes in air and land transport technology and location options.

Tourism growth – your approach?

My vision is for a transformed tourism sector that relies more on locally resident talent and less on visiting workers, in an increasingly thriving, sustainable, resilient, and diverse economy.  It’s about balance.

We need to:

  • Avoid a return to unsustainable pre-COVID mass-tourism growth rates.
  • Immediately review the assumptions and intent of the district plan, spatial plan, and council long-term plan, to enable sustainable, managed, low-growth targets.
  • Develop differential rating to reduce reliance on residential visitor accommodation (AirBnB).
  • Smooth demand across the year – encouraging events and conferences in shoulder seasons.
  • Actively encourage longer-stay tourism, reducing congestion and long-haul CO2 generation.
  • Encourage and enable the transition to e-transport for tourist and resident travel needs.
  • Enable a thriving local tertiary education sector and the seasonal workforce it will bring.
  • Provide for and protect our social, cultural, natural, and economic environment to continue to attract and welcome new workers, entrepreneurs, and enterprises at a pace that we and our environment can accommodate.
  • Reduce the worker housing crisis through a public-private housing task force, with government support, to provide immediate temporary and longer-term permanent solutions.

Not one of these will solve our over-tourism crisis alone, but all of them and more together will make a real difference.

Community involvement?

Yes

The communities of the district need to be enabled to be significantly more engaged in strategic visioning and decision-making for the district – including the future of our airports and of air travel within integrated regional transport planning.

Council-led legal review of the QAC constitution?

Yes

The council, as super-majority shareholder, needs to take ownership of revising the QAC constitution to ensure that the well-being intent of Council’s ownership of the company is reflected and delivered to, provide for a continued income stream to Council, and prevent further reduction in the community’s ownership of the company.

Council sign-off required on the 10-year Strategic Plan?

Yes

The airport and Queenstown Airport Corporation are strategic assets for the district.  The council, as majority shareholder on behalf of our communities, has to be able to exercise strategic control over airports in the district.

Council sign-off required on the Airport Master Plan?

Yes

Yes, until trust is restored between QAC and the community. The future nature and operation of the airport have flow-on effects to the immediate area of the airport and the wider district.  The council must re-establish governance oversight of our airports.

Should QLDC investigate what opportunities/risks exist if Tarras International Airport gets the go-ahead?

Yes

We, as a district, must be fully aware of the risks and opportunities that might come from a regional-scale airport at Tarras, or anywhere else one is proposed, to inform our collective decision-making. 

Anyone making adamant statements for or against any airport development will only result in those making those statements being shut out of any future decision-making, as this would be “pre-determination”.

LINK to: Jon Mitchell, Al Angus, Neeta Shetty, Glyn Lewers, Olivia Wensley


Al Angus

Al Angus: photo supplied

Queenstown Airport air noise boundary expansion?

No, in fact qldc should have the power to wind back the noise boundary’s as a mechanism to regulate over tourism.

What should be council’s role in the airport’s strategic planning for use of ZQN land in the next 30 to 50 years: Hands On or Hands Off?

Very hands on, with the whole of the elected councillors involved, and kept up to date with the outcomes of ALL meetings related to QAC

Tourism growth – your approach?

The covid lockdown gave many of us a welcome respite from the environmental devastation of mass/over tourism, but it seems nothing has been learned and the district is rushing back to the mess that was . I believe there is a correction happening already.

Community involvement?

Absolutely, If there had have been community involvement in the original selling of 25% It would have been stopped and not the catalyst for the current situation. We would also still have a world class aero club instead of another car rental.

Council-led legal review of the QAC constitution?

Yes

Council sign-off required on the 10-year Strategic Plan?

Yes

Council sign-off required on the Airport Master Plan?

Yes

Should QLDC investigate what opportunities/risks exist if Tarras International Airport gets the go-ahead?

Yes

LINK to: Jon Mitchell, Al Angus, Neeta Shetty, Glyn Lewers, Olivia Wensley


Neeta Shetty

Neeta Shetty: photo supplied

Queenstown Airport air noise boundary expansion?

No.

Air traffic control technology and airport design are being used globally to help reduce aircraft noise for people on the ground. Innovation and technology must be pioneered when considering the effects of our airport.

What should be council’s role in the airport’s strategic planning for use of ZQN land in the next 30 to 50 years: Hands On or Hands Off?

The council must have a ‘hands-on’ approach.

It is imperative for QLDC to have an active and involved role in the airport’s strategic planning. As stated by QAC, “strategic planning of the aviation facility is complicated and requires consultation.” I would think that by QAC’s own admission, QLDC must be a vested interest in the consultation as the key voice of the community and major shareholder.

Tourism growth – your approach?

Tourism brings opportunities to our region. Tourism places our nation and particularly our region on the global map. Tourism is one of the ways that we could attract investments for our economic diversity. Our visitors bring a vibrancy to our region and take back with them stories of our people, history and culture.

However, we must manage our tourism efficiently and effectively. We could set the benchmark for both sustainable tourism and growth if we can adjust our priorities to include climate change, our environment and the community at the heart of our policies. Our goal must be to provide our residents and our tourist an exceptional Queenstown-Lakes experience without compromising the integrity of our environment.

Community involvement?

My only vested interest is as a community member, so community involvement in council decision is non-negotiable for me. I am not in favour of closed-door meetings as it is my belief that the best and most pragmatic approaches are community-led. Notwithstanding, the council is using public money for these decisions, so community involvement is pivotal.

Council-led legal review of the QAC constitution?

Yes.

We need to have a review of the QAC constitution. It is also important that we do this in a timely manner.

Council sign-off required on the 10-year Strategic Plan?

Yes.

Councillors recommendation on the draft SoE provides for a transparent process that keeps all parties accountable.

Council sign-off required on the Airport Master Plan?

Yes.

With the unscrupulous Wanaka Airport lease, council has a responsibility to ensure  that the Airport Master Plan is signed off; so the public can trust that the council has acted in the best interest of the community.

Should QLDC investigate what opportunities/risks exist if Tarras International Airport gets the go-ahead?

No.

I’m not convinced there is an immediate need for an international airport of such magnitude, albeit outside of our district but within such close proximity. With the uncertainty of the current times, we must make prudent decisions with our resource – environmental, monetary and social. Apart from a colossal environmental issue and with a massive carbon footprint, the airport is also an economic concern to the Queenstown-Lakes – as the Tarras Airport threatens our district’s niche existence.

LINK to: Jon Mitchell, Al Angus, Neeta Shetty, Glyn Lewers, Olivia Wensley


Glyn Lewers

Glyn Lewers: photo supplied

Queenstown Airport air noise boundary expansion?

The Air Noise Boundary expansion is off the table. The Airport and the Council have said no to any expansion over the last three years and have said no for the coming 10 years. So it’s a No

What should be council’s role in the airport’s strategic planning for use of ZQN land in the next 30 to 50 years: Hands On or Hands Off?

In my view, innovation and productivity gains come with a bottom-up approach; some may call it hands-off. The office of the Auditor General has endorsed this approach. We, as councillors, do not know how to run an airport. We have directed them to the plans we want them to follow. For example, the spatial plan, the current Airport governance team and the executive are doing an outstanding job in some of the most demanding operating conditions to respond to the many needs of the district’s community. They are currently thinking ahead for the next ten years and beyond. An airport needs to think long term as the infrastructure requirements are critical and long-lasting. I think the airport should be looking at diversifying its income from landing fees, utilising its unused land holding, and developing plans to enhance the user experience within the campus.

Tourism growth – your approach?

Implement the Destination Management plan. It is foolish to think we can control numbers, but we effectively limited arrivals by air by halting air noise boundary expansion for the next ten years. We now have to concentrate on land-based transport solutions to deal with the bounce back.

Community involvement?

As Frankton Community Chairperson I had easy access to the airport executive and could make the community’s voice heard. I have always found the airport executive approachable and keen to listen to the community. I am pleased that is what they will be doing with respect to the Master plan which will happen early next year.

Council-led legal review of the QAC constitution?

We have already discussed this at the Council table, and it was decided not to go ahead, as we deemed it fit for purpose given the various legislative requirements an airport company has to meet.

Council sign-off required on the 10-year Strategic Plan?

The strategic plan is already in the draft; Council has given their feedback and will soon be released for all to see. It has not varied from the strategic outcomes listed in the current Statement of Intent, so there is no need to go back and relitigate an already approved process

Council sign-off required on the Airport Master Plan?

This has already been decided. The Master plan will come to Council after it has been consulted on with the community.

[WLW note: The 2023-2025 Statement of Intent says the QAC board “will report the final master plan to shareholders and seek shareholder endorsement of the final master plan before any final approval by the board.” The word seek does not mean require, so the current SOI does not require council sign-off on the master plan. It will be shared with the council, but the SOI makes clear there is no requirement for the QAC board to act on any council feedback.]

Should QLDC investigate what opportunities/risks exist if Tarras International Airport gets the go-ahead?

If Tarras gets approval, QAC will have ample opportunity to assess the opportunities and risks. At this stage, I would rather have the airport concentrate on rebuilding its business after Covid for the well-being of the community.

As an incumbent councillor, you are welcome to explain your voting record during this term on the above issues.

I have voted in favour of all Statements of Intent. I stood for Council to halt noise boundary expansion and maintain the presence of the airport in Frankton. Each SOI from 2020 onwards had an explicit statement that Noise boundary expansion would not happen during the time of the SOI. The last SOI extended that to 10 years. I have avoided the tedious arguments around the periphery and concentrated on delivering on my word that the noise boundaries will not expand and the Airport is staying put. Three years later, that is precisely the case.

WLW comment: Technically correct on the SOI vote, but a false narrative of “tedious arguments around the periphery” in what WLW judges the most damaging airport voting record of current councillors. Cr Lewers consistently opposed other councillors’ moves to strengthen council’s QAC governance, usually alongside Mayor Boult but sometimes as a lone voice. He was a member of the QAC-QLDC steering group, in charge of guiding the two entities through the governance process each year. This put him in a position of strength to advocate for the SOI to include a QLDC strategic objective that QAC must continue to operate within the existing ANB – not just for the three years of the SOI. By law, QAC would then have been required to comply. He did not. This year’s draft SOE did not even require QAC to operate within its existing ANB, just asked for surety as to whether it would. This is despite QAC CEO Glen Sowry having already publicly committed to not doing so over the next decade.

Examples of Cr Lewers’ public voting record include:

June 30, 2022: Cr Lewers was one of four councillors who made no comment throughout the discussion. He then voted to give QAC control of Queenstown Airport’s future direction, by agreeing they could ignore councillors’ thrice expressed instruction requiring Council approval of the 10-year Strategic Plan and Airport Master Plan.

February 3, 2022: Cr Lewers either opposed or abstained on a raft of other councillors’ amendments aimed at strengthening council governance of the airport, compared to the draft SOE his group put forward. Among measures he did not support: (a) That both strategic and master plans be formally agreed by full council before implementation and that the scope of both plans must be clearly outlined in the SOI. (b) Requiring QLDC-led consultation on these plans. (c) Limiting QAC’s SOI scope to Queenstown Airport (after the High Court overturned council’s illegal QAC lease of Wanaka Airport). These are not “tedious arguments around the periphery,” as he describes, but central to QLDC’s mandated governance role.

June 30, 2021 Cr Lewers voted for an SOI that allowed QAC to continue planning expansion of QAC’s noise boundary and to apply for consent any time after June 30, 2024. And to forego the right of community consultation and councillor sign-off of the vitally important Airport Master Plan and 10-year Strategic Plan.

January 28, 2021: Cr Lewers voted against a raft of amendments put forward by Crs Shaw and Gladding, including management and planning for Queenstown Airport within the existing ANBs and of Wānaka Airport to exclude jets, and that any changes to either of these principles must be subject to robust council-led consultation with the community directly affected.

April 23, 2020: Cr Lewers voted to accept an SOI made obsolete by Covid 19’s border closures, described by Cr Shaw as “a dereliction of duty”. This after a summary of over 80 submissions was presented to the meeting, the vast majority of which were opposed to QLDC agreeing to the airport’s SOI.

LINK to: Jon Mitchell, Al Angus, Neeta Shetty, Glyn Lewers, Olivia Wensley


Olivia Wensley

Response received after deadline

Olivia Wensley: no photo supplied. This image cropped from photo at the recent Catalyst Mayoral Forum

Queenstown Airport air noise boundary expansion?

No – I do not support any expansion of the airport

What should be council’s role in the airport’s strategic planning for use of ZQN land in the next 30 to 50 years: Hands On or Hands Off?

Hands on: Yes

Tourism growth – your approach?

Only 2% of residents want tourism growth to increase from 2019 levels – I intend to listen to the community and will not be supporting unrestrained growth.

Community involvement?

The community should be involved in such important decision.

Council-led legal review of the QAC constitution?

Yes

Council sign-off required on the 10-year Strategic Plan?

Yes

Council sign-off required on the Airport Master Plan?

Yes

Should QLDC investigate what opportunities/risks exist if Tarras International Airport gets the go-ahead?

Yes – we need to understand the potential impact on our region.

WLW comment:  It is concerning that Ms Wensley’s most prominent and vocal backer, Rod Drury, is now a significant shareholder of the company that caused the major but unacknowledged conflicts of interest for current Mayor Jim Boult on many issues, especially the airport. Mr Boult was chair of the  South Island’s largest tourism company – known variously as Real Journeys, Wayfare then RealNZ – through this past term. He moved on after Drury and others came on board.  Most of RealNZ’s businesses are reliant on mass tourism, for which limiting airport  noise would be anathema. Billionaire Drury  has been vocal about what he thinks the future of Queenstown Lakes should be since moving here recently. This included opening up ownership of Wakatipu basin land to wealthy overseas people during Covid.


LINK to: Jon Mitchell, Al Angus, Neeta Shetty, Glyn Lewers, Olivia Wensley

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