Airport governance – 2022 QLDC Wakatipu ward council 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 grouped according to ward, listed in the order we received their response, and the answers are presented as they were written. Photos are reproduced from council’s election website.

Scroll the page or go directly to:

Queenstown-Wakatipu Ward / Matt Wong / Esther Whitehead / Gavin Bartlett / Niki Gladding

No responses received from: Stevey Chernishov, Anton Dorner, Peter Newport, Clair Turnham, or Mary Weston.

Arrowtown-Kawarau Ward / Lisa Guy / Neeta Shetty / Craig Ferguson / Nell Hunter / Danijel Duvnjak /

No response received from: Melissa White.


Queenstown-Wakatipu Ward


Matt Wong

Queenstown Airport air noise boundary expansion?

No. From what I have been told it is not likely to happen in the next decade with high community support against expansion. I need to talk with Glen (CEO of QAC) and community leaders to fully understand the complexity of this issue. I previously managed a heli operation for 4 years at the airport. Now I cringe at the sound of aircraft but there always needs to be good balance, and that serves the whole community.

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 but not in the weeds. There is some bad history and trust that needs repaired.

Tourism growth – your approach?

We do not have control over visitor numbers to the district, although political rhetoric will have you believe we can dilute or reduce visitors. We can control how they interact while visiting the district and how much they pay for services. The Destination Management Plan and Tourism Industry Transformation Plan must drive tourism operators to not just think but act regeneratively. I am doing this with my SME tourism business and my customers are paying for our community and environmental projects that benefit people and place. And regenerative tourism has a commercial benefit, but we need legacy leaders to think about the future, about a win win win approach for all stakeholders both internal and external.  If we scale our regenerative efforts, we could have a visitor economy that works for our district, one we can be proud of. Corporate greed and governance solely driving profits to shareholders must change. Change KPI’s to benefit all stakeholders (Commercial, Environment, Community and Culture). By the way, this is not just a tourisms issue, it exists in many district industries – tech, transport, farming, logistics, construction, retail etc. A diverse economy without community at its heart is just introducing more of the same issues. We all must do better to change our mindset to see business, community, environment, people, are part of the one ecosystem.

Community involvement?

I am standing because I want better community involvement to solve the massive freight train of issues coming at us, but there needs to be far better communication and cross community collaboration from council and from community. No councillor should have just one agenda. Doesn’t mean you need to be an expert, far from it, but you need to lean on community and council to guide decision making and solve the complex issues, together.

Council-led legal review of the QAC constitution?

Yes, if the QAC initiated review was not conducted in a robust and transparent manner and conflicts of interest were not managed well, then I would support a council led review. The history of QAC, QLDC, and community has been highly controversial, and it should be expect there will be a higher level of scrutiny to manage until there is a transparent and trusted relationship. 

If it was not done in a robust, transparent way YES, I hate wasting time, resource, and money because work wasn’t executed or communicated well to the stakeholders.

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 – but this shouldn’t be a massive cost! A SWOT of the Tarras Airport is just good governance.

Queenstown-Wakatipu Ward / Matt Wong / Esther Whitehead / Gavin Bartlett / Niki Gladding
Arrowtown-Kawarau Ward / Lisa Guy / Neeta Shetty / Craig Ferguson / Danijel Duvnjak


Esther Whitehead

Queenstown Airport air noise boundary expansion?

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?

Hands on. There is much at stake. The strategic plan talks of growth and ‘magical’ technology as its strategy for reducing carbon footprint. The land use has potential to enhance or degrade the community, therefore we need a say.

Tourism growth – your approach?

Start to strategically plan for capped numbers through our airport and for Destination Queenstown to review its regenerative tourism strategy to talk about managing degrowth in specific areas, types of tourism.

Community involvement?

I will still advocate for sign off on strategic plan and master plan. I’ll ask for specifics around the key assumptions QAC has made in its most recent draft strategy. Their key assumptions put our community’s asset at risk both environmentally and economically by assuming a stable economy and no disruption to the economy for the next 10 years.

Council-led legal review of the QAC constitution?

YES, I have already asked for this in the next triennium.

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, it’s made the assumption that it won’t operate in the next 10 years and is therefore not assessing opportunities or risk.

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

I don’t have the time to write my whole history, but rest assured that I have voted in the way I have answered this survey, for the community — and We Love Wakatipu has been witness to that. I have been the key advocate for a Governance manual specific to our CCTO for the reason that the SOE and SOI exacerbate confusion in process and outcomes and create year on year, unresolved issues. The processes of the SOE and SOI do not safeguard long term changes in the way that a governance manual would address. It is designed to help council elected members to operate effectively in their roles and to clarify their responsibilities. It also provides guidance to the chief executives, senior leaders and staff of CCTOs and the council. It offers an accountability framework. The point of this is to have systemic improvement in core competencies for our elected members and staff of the CCO. It enables stronger collaboration between the two parties. We need more accountability measures and better information and training for new councillors, This manual would achieve that. Staff are still in the process of ‘exploring’ the need for this. 

WLW comment: Cr Whitehead has been an articulate and strong supporter of strengthening council’s governance of QAC and stopping ANB expansion, clearly understands council’s legal powers to do so, and has actively promoted this through moving strategic resolutions since becoming a councillor in a by-election 15 months ago.

Queenstown-Wakatipu Ward / Matt Wong / Esther Whitehead / Gavin Bartlett / Niki Gladding
Arrowtown-Kawarau Ward / Lisa Guy / Neeta Shetty / Craig Ferguson / Danijel Duvnjak


Gavin Bartlett

Queenstown Airport air noise boundary expansion?

I would not support an expansion of the Queenstown Airport Noise 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. I would like to see QLDC take a more ‘hands on’ role in the strategic planning of Queenstown Airport and land.

Tourism growth – your approach?

I think there are valid concerns around tourism levels returning to pre-covid levels.  I would like to see a coordinated tourism strategy across the southern region, making better use of the existing airports at Dunedin and Invercargill and looking at providing transport links between these centres and the Queenstown Lakes district.

Community involvement?

The community has shown that it has a significant interest in the actions and operations of the airport, and greater community involvement should be catered for.

Council-led legal review of the QAC constitution?

The option for a Council-led legal review of the QAC constitution should at least be offered for discussion/debate.

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

Council should be asked to review, provide input and accept (when satisfied) a 10-year strategic plan for a Council Controlled Trading Organisation.

Council sign-off required on the Airport Master Plan?

Similar to the above, Council should be asked to review, provide input and accept (when satisfied) an Airport Master Plan for an airport which is a Council Controlled Trading Organisation.

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

The proposed Tarras Airport project is outside of QAC and QLDC influence and control, but it would be prudent for QLDC to investigate both the risks and opportunities to the wider Queenstown Lakes district associated with the project should it go ahead (and indeed if it does not).

Queenstown-Wakatipu Ward / Matt Wong / Esther Whitehead / Gavin Bartlett / Niki Gladding
Arrowtown-Kawarau Ward / Lisa Guy / Neeta Shetty / Craig Ferguson / Danijel Duvnjak


Niki Gladding

Queenstown Airport air noise boundary expansion?

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?

Hands on.

The airport’s strategic plan needs to respond to growth pressures, the climate emergency and AIAL’s proposal for Tarras.  There are plenty of value judgements to be made and I believe those should sit with elected representatives rather than experts in corporate governance.    Personally, I’d like to see: QAC limit growth by not expanding the terminal; debt remain low so we can retain control of the asset in all future scenarios; and a sinking lid on the aircraft emissions ZQN enables.  But these are complex decisions with huge consequences and so they need to be made with community input.

Council’s role in the Strategic Planning process should include:

  1. Amending the constitution to ensure the right drivers are in place; 
  2. Modifying the SOI to uncouple QAC’s strategic planning from current visitor demand projections and to require council sign-off of QAC’s Strategic Plan before it can be implemented;  
  3. Commissioning an independent risk assessment of its investment in QAC under different future scenarios (taking Tarras and climate change into account);  
  4. Facilitating a discussion with the community about the costs, benefits, risks and opportunities of different strategic scenarios for our Airport and Airport land.

Tourism growth – your approach?

We’re facing global uncertainty, so we need to be very careful and very clever about our private and public investments in this district.  Currently,  QLDC is investing in line with projected peak visitor numbers on the assumption that it can’t limit those numbers.  I don’t support that assumption or that approach. 

I believe that in the first instance, QLDC needs to facilitate an informed discussion with the community about:

  1. The costs and benefits of allowing tourism growth in line with projected demand;  
  2. The risks of investing or not investing in tourism infrastructure in line with projected peak demand;  
  3. The rate of tourism growth or degrowth the community would ideally like to see; and  
  4. The levers QLDC has to limit growth and how they could be used to achieve growth in line with the community’s (informed) position.   

Community involvement?

YES

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

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

I’ve always voted in line with the answers provided above.  My position has always been that QAC is a council-controlled company owned by the ratepayers and as such QLDC should be actively protecting its investment and ensuring that QAC’s activities deliver community wellbeing.

WLW comment: Cr Gladding has been one of three councillors who have consistently and staunchly advocated for stopping ZQN’s ANB expansion and improved governance of QAC throughout the past term. (The other two being Cr Shaw, sadly not standing again, and Cr Quentin Smith, standing in Wānaka). A primary initiator of major changes to the February 2022 statement of expectation, which would have substantially improved QLDC governance of the airport if carried through to QAC’s statement of intent. Unfortunately, QAC flagrantly flouted several of council’s explicit instructions and a majority of councillors subsequently decided that was okay. Her diligent activism would be much more effective with colleagues who understood and applied their governance role with QAC, as we are hoping for this term.

Queenstown-Wakatipu Ward / Matt Wong / Esther Whitehead / Gavin Bartlett / Niki Gladding
Arrowtown-Kawarau Ward / Lisa Guy / Neeta Shetty / Craig Ferguson / Danijel Duvnjak


Arrowtown-Kawarau Ward


Lisa Guy

Queenstown Airport air noise boundary expansion?

Overwhelming level of public feedback against this, I’d represent our communities wishes to not increase air noise boundary expansion.

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?

Council are responsible for strategic oversight and good governance of our district and are the super-majority shareholder of QAC assets – while I’m on a learning curve as to how this applies in reality, I’m assuming a level of strategic sign off would be the least required.

Tourism growth – your approach?

Many conversations to be had about how we may re-engineer and focus tourism to regenerative and sustainable outcomes. This is a nationwide issue. Addressing things locally while important, may only push the problem around the country. There is much we can do to move our provision of visitor experiences, products, and services with respect for Earths environmental ceilings. I’m in support of a nationwide tourism levy. Every day a New Zealander carries the burden of at least one other visitor. Respect for people, place and productivity requires targeted funding to ensure we can invest in infrastructure and continue to strive towards more sustainable outcomes.

Community involvement?

Community involvement is critical to my overall approach to good governance. I will be focused on communicating and engaging with people to ensure we are all well informed on local issues and make any decisions based on clear demonstratable evidence of what our constituents want 

Council-led legal review of the QAC constitution?

Not yet informed enough on this issue to respond.

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

Queenstown-Wakatipu Ward / Matt Wong / Esther Whitehead / Gavin Bartlett / Niki Gladding
Arrowtown-Kawarau Ward / Lisa Guy / Neeta Shetty / Craig Ferguson / Danijel Duvnjak


Neeta Shetty

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 the our district’s niche existence.

Queenstown-Wakatipu Ward / Matt Wong / Esther Whitehead / Gavin Bartlett / Niki Gladding
Arrowtown-Kawarau Ward / Lisa Guy / Neeta Shetty / Craig Ferguson / Danijel Duvnjak


Nell Hunter

Nell provided the following general comment to cover all questions.

Our airport is expected to complete a master plan in 2022/23 which will be Council led.  Council’s direction to the airport needs be practical and focus on solving local problems.

I understand that a lot of people are concerned about the noise from the Airport.  At the same time many others love the convenience of it.  Council should expect the airport to balance these competing interests carefully and find smart solutions.   

We need to connect Queenstown to the world while minimising the impact on our other infrastructure and also amenity value.  For example, why not encourage an easy direct bus from the airport that directly connects travellers into town to reduce the traffic impact on Frankton Road?  Right now the bus from the airport is slow and travellers are expected to buy a local bus pass with NZD.  Why not take a credit card like most modern bus services?

In terms of tourism growth, many of our most important businesses rely on tourism.  We can’t get in their way.  At the same time we do need to recognise that ratepayers shouldn’t subsidise services for tourists.  We need to think carefully about how we can share the costs more fairly. With regard to the proposed Tarras Airport, Queenstown-Lakes should look at the opportunities.  More options are better than fewer.  If it did become a realistic opportunity to build an airport, the transport links through the gorge would need a major upgrade, but Council should be demanding that anyway!

[WLW note: QAC, not council, is writing the master plan.]

Queenstown-Wakatipu Ward / Matt Wong / Esther Whitehead / Gavin Bartlett / Niki Gladding
Arrowtown-Kawarau Ward / Lisa Guy / Neeta Shetty / Craig Ferguson / Danijel Duvnjak


Craig Ferguson

Received after deadline

Queenstown Airport air noise boundary expansion?

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?

Hands off

Tourism growth – your approach?

Manageable, liveable, but will be able to control. Thats a worry for me.

Community involvement?

Absolutely

Council-led legal review of the QAC constitution?

No

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

No, I have faith in the board but Council need to be more than a partner. The

Council sign-off required on the Airport Master Plan?

Yes but

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

All I would say is that we need to take Tarras seriously.

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

(No comment provided)

WLW comment: Cr Ferguson’s voting record on stopping ANB expansion and strengthening council’s airport governance has been patchy, tending to follow Mayor Boult’s direction, and his contribution to debate has been minimal. Some examples of his public voting record include:

February 3, 2022: Cr Ferguson voted against an amendment to the draft statement of expectations that QLDC would review the QAC constitution.

June 30, 2021: Cr Ferguson said not one word except for ‘aye’.  Which meant he okayed, without question or comment, a Statement of Intent that allowed QAC to continue planning expansion of QAC’s ANB 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.

October 29, 2020: Cr Ferguson admitted “I have found I have questioned myself whether I have the capacity to continue to soak up the avalanche of emails and documents and various advice, guidance and reading to make another call on another QAC SOI. But that’s our job.” WLW agrees, but we consider this response inadequate for a councillor who has had nine years’ experience with the process.

Queenstown-Wakatipu Ward / Matt Wong / Esther Whitehead / Gavin Bartlett / Niki Gladding
Arrowtown-Kawarau Ward / Lisa Guy / Neeta Shetty / Craig Ferguson / Danijel Duvnjak


Danijel Duvnjak

Received after deadline

Queenstown Airport air noise boundary expansion?

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?

Hands on

Tourism growth – your approach?

I suggest that we direct our focus toward the remote workers. They come here for a reason (ski season or MTB season etc,) stay for a season and return over a lifetime. To me, there is an opportunity to  bring the into our community as often returning g members.

Community involvement?

More of what you are doing, with the backing and support of the council.

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

Queenstown-Wakatipu Ward / Matt Wong / Esther Whitehead / Gavin Bartlett / Niki Gladding
Arrowtown-Kawarau Ward / Lisa Guy / Neeta Shetty / Craig Ferguson / Danijel Duvnjak

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