QAC’s draft strategic plan – current councillors seeking re-election respond

Queenstown Airport

WLW survey and commentary

Queenstown Airport Corporation released their draft 10-year Strategic Plan this week. We Love Wakatipu sent a survey to current councillors who are seeking re-election asking for their thoughts on the process and councillor input on this vital strategic document.

We asked the following questions:

  1. When did you first see QAC’s draft strategic plan?
  2. Did full council discuss and communicate to QAC its strategic objectives for QAC to achieve through this plan prior to receiving this draft?
  3. Did you have any opportunity for input and discussion with QAC?
  4. If so, in what forum (workshop, full council meeting, as an individual, joint steering group…).
  5. If not, do you think you should have? And if so, in what forum?
  6. Are you satisfied with the process to date and council’s governance role of its CCTO?
  7. If not, what would you improve?
  8. You are welcome of course to add any further comments if you would like.

We have noted our our serious concerns, expressed repeatedly in our council public forum submissions on airport governance, about:

  • the invisibility of the Strategic Plan process and drivers, to both councillors and community,
  • the lack of input from councillors, especially about council’s strategic objectives for QAC,
  • and the refusal of QAC (with acquiescence from the majority of councillors) to accept QLDC sign off of the Strategic Plan prior to implementation, despite explicit instruction that this was required by the council that purportedly controls them.

Candidates’ responses are listed in the order they were received. Cr Glyn Lewers, who is standing for Mayor, did not respond. We acknowledge it was a tight turnaround for response at a busy time in the campaign, so thank you to those who did so.

Link directly to: Quentin Smith / Esther Whitehead / Niki Gladding / Craig Ferguson


Cr Quentin Smith, Wānaka Ward

When did you first see QAC’s draft strategic plan? 

I think it was circulated mid-august ahead of a workshop on the 30th august.

Did full council discuss and communicate to QAC its strategic objectives for QAC to achieve through this plan prior to receiving this draft?

No. 

Did you have any opportunity for input and discussion with QAC?

Yes, at the 30th August workshop.  The councillors were provided an opportunity to provide feedback.  It’s not clear explicitly what was taken on board although the concerns were noted and discussed.  

If so, in what forum (workshop, full council meeting, as an individual, joint steering group…).

See above.  Steering group has not met in 2022. 

If not, do you think you should have? And if so, in what forum? 

Steering group has a useful function, but has not been used this year for various reasons.

Are you satisfied with the process to date and council’s governance role of its CCTO?

Definitely not.  Over my terms at council the management of airport issues from the lease to the SOI have been poor and cause a lot of issues between council and the community.  Dealings have become a little easier with Glen at the helm, but we have a long way to go still.  

If not, what would you improve?

I think we need a significant reset of the relationship with QAC, and the new council and the relatively recent start of Glen Sowry provide a great opportunity to seek better alignment on strategic direction and trust with the community.

You are welcome of course to add any further comments if you would like.

Disappointing that they have chosen to raise the future of Wanaka airport.  This remains wholly in council’s hands and is not part of this process.   The kickback on air noise boundaries issues previously was driven by concern over quantum of growth not necessarily “noise” discreetly.  I suspect a large quantum of passenger moment growth even if it within “existing” air noise boundaries may still not be popular.  The noise boundaries are very technical measurement and were only a defacto for community wanting limits imposed.

Link directly to: Quentin Smith / Esther Whitehead / Niki Gladding / Craig Ferguson


Cr Esther Whitehead, Queenstown-Wakatipu Ward

When did you first see QAC’s draft strategic plan? 

Monday 15th August at QAC with Glen Sowry presenting it.

Did full council discuss and communicate to QAC its strategic objectives for QAC to achieve through this plan prior to receiving this draft?

Yes, through the Statement of Expectations and SOI. (But this is notoriously lacking process as answered in the final question).

Did you have any opportunity for input and discussion with QAC?

Yes.  

If so, in what forum (workshop, full council meeting, as an individual, joint steering group…).

We had a workshop to give feedback following the presentation at the Airport.  My contribution was that the Key assumptions are wrong and create risk for us as a community. QAC are operating as if we’re not in a climate crisis.  Their assumptions that I questioned:

“Macro-economic environment will remain stable over the period” 

“There will be no major event that impacts on the world economy and demand for air travel “

“There will be changes to legislation / government policy, but they will not significantly impact on how we provide our services / deliver the airport activity.”


These assumptions are the wrong assumptions to make, they put our investment at risk, we should be making assumptions such as 

“Degrowth is a possibly strategy for the district that may impact airport activity.”

“There are highly likely to be major impacts from Climate Change that affect the demand for air travel.”

I gave this feedback and Glen Sowry said he’d take it onboard.

If not, do you think you should have? And if so, in what forum? 

Steering group has a useful function, but has not been used this year for various reasons.

Are you satisfied with the process to date and council’s governance role of its CCTO?

NO

If not, what would you improve?

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’s 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.

Link directly to: Quentin Smith / Esther Whitehead / Niki Gladding / Craig Ferguson


Cr Niki Gladding, Queenstown-Wakatipu Ward

When did you first see QAC’s draft strategic plan? 

I first saw the ‘Draft’ Strategic Plan on 15 August.  All councillors were invited to a ‘Shareholder Briefing’ at the Airport. A representative from Auckland Airport was also present. There was a presentation by QAC and the councillors who attended were handed a confidential ‘draft’.  It wasn’t really a draft – it was essentially a complete document (spiral bound on heavy paper with full graphics) and Mr Sowry made comments that suggested he was anxious to get it signed off.

It took me by surprise because the 2022 SOI, which was operative during the development of the Plan, says: “QAC will proactively engage with its shareholders on its development”.  As I’ve always said of the SOI, words matter.  If challenged, QAC might argue that providing the ability to comment at the 11th hour is engaging with shareholders on the plan’s development, but I don’t think that meets the ‘good faith’ test.

Did full council discuss and communicate to QAC its strategic objectives for QAC to achieve through this plan prior to receiving this draft?

The full Council’s only input was via the 2022/23 Statement of Intent which says this: “The strategic plan will align to the directions agreed by shareholders through the Statement of Intent.” I didn’t support that Statement of Intent.

The minutes record this: “Councillor Smith considered that the content of the SOI had improved but without a commitment to have open discussion about the strategic plan and masterplan he was not prepared to support the recommendation. Councillor Gladding supported this view as she did not consider that the Local Government Act was met without public consultation on the strategic plan and masterplan. Councillor Whitehead was also critical of the SOI.”  The minutes also record that “Councillors Gladding, Shaw, Smith and Whitehead recorded their votes against the motion.” 

If so, in what forum (workshop, full council meeting, as an individual, joint steering group…). AND Are you satisfied with the process to date and council’s governance role of its CCTO?

The only opportunity I had to have input into the Strategic Plan (other than via the SOI) was on and after the 15th of August 2022.  After the presentation on the 15th, there was an online council workshop on 30 August – Glen Sowry and Simon Flood were present for QAC.  There was no councillor-only forum prior to the workshop with QAC and there should have been.  

I gave a significant amount of feedback on both the 15th and the 30th.  Major issues were with a number of the key assumptions, the complete failure to address climate risk (to the company), the size of the capital programme and debt levels, no limit on the use of different debt products, the objective of catering for demand, promoting the “fly direct to destination value proposition”, the assumption that the terminal will be extended (which undermines consultation on the masterplan), the pigeon-holing of sustainability into the Sustainability Plan, and the failure to address enabled emissions.

Are you satisfied with the process to date and council’s governance role of its CCTO? AND If not, what would you improve?

With respect to the Strategic Plan, I don’t believe QAC has acted in good faith with the full council.  It committed to proactively engaging with its shareholders on the development of the Strategic Plan and in my opinion, it hasn’t done that.  However, it’s hard to put too much blame the Board when QLDC management and the majority of councillors have supported a ‘hands off’ approach.

Going forward I will do whatever I can to ensure the Council takes a hands-on approach to governing QAC in a way that reflects the District’s Vision, and the need to drive down gross emissions.  In terms of improving process I would support:

  1. As a first step, to protect ratepayers, requiring QAC to remove any mention of the Strategic Plan from the current SOI
  2. An informed community consultation on tourism growth that considers the consequences of different growth scenarios, the different levers we can pull to limit growth, and what level of growth would best serve the community.  The results should inform QLDC’s visitor growth projections which will in turn inform the next iteration of the Spatial Plan, the Ten-Year Plan, the SOI, and the Airport’s Strategic Planning.
  3. Community consultation and QLDC ‘sign off’ on a revised Strategic Plan for QAC (same for the Masterplan).  The Strategic Plan process should consider the financial and carbon impacts of different strategic directions.  The SOI should not limit the consideration of options the way the current SOI does and Flightplan 2050’s proposal should be considered as one option for the future.
  4. An independent risk assessment of any Strategic Plan before QLDC sign off.
  5. A QLDC-led review of QAC’s constitution (with significant councillor involvement).
  6. An SOI and Strategic Plan steering group that includes all councillors who want to be involved.  Minutes to be kept.
  7. Requiring that the QAC Board includes members who have local government experience and expertise and expertise in climate risk and mitigation.

Link directly to: Quentin Smith / Esther Whitehead / Niki Gladding / Craig Ferguson


Cr Craig Ferguson, Arrowtown-Kawarau Ward

When did you first see QAC’s draft strategic plan? 

It was tabled at a meeting between councillor’s and the QAC in August. It was a meeting I was unable to attend due to work commitments.

Did full council discuss and communicate to QAC its strategic objectives for QAC to achieve through this plan prior to receiving this draft?

We had been through the SOE and SOI, which have become much discussed documents. The answer for me though is no. 

Did you have any opportunity for input and discussion with QAC?

Yes councillor’s were given the opportunity. 

If so, in what forum (workshop, full council meeting, as an individual, joint steering group…).

Another workshop, after the airport meeting, allowed more councillor feedback. In my opinion I feel the many views and opinions current councillor’s hold around QAC tend to stall the desire we are trying to seek. A new council and Mayor will test this further in the new triennium 

If not, do you think you should have? And if so, in what forum? 

I would like to have seen the steering group used more effectively for the benefit of councillor’s and that may have helped in any potential consensus as mentioned above.

Are you satisfied with the process to date and council’s governance role of its CCTO?

I am comfortable with the process but frustrated at the friction this issue continues to cause not only around the table but in the community as well. The new CEO Glen Sowry has brought a different attitude, understanding and feel that we must make the most of for the community. I would hope full council are more involved in governance and a level of consensus and trust can be found for all.

Link directly to: Quentin Smith / Esther Whitehead / Niki Gladding / Craig Ferguson

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