Welcome new mayor and councillors – we look forward to your strategic governance of QAC

We Love Wakatipu Inc commentary, 17 July 2022

Today was the first business meeting of the 2022 – 25 Queenstown Lakes District Council.

We Love Wakatipu Inc congratulated the new mayor and councillors, outlined their powers to strategically govern Queenstown Airport Corporation and said we look forward to them doing so.

Here is WLW chair Cath Gilmour’s public forum three minutes’ worth

Public forum

Kia ora koutou.

Congratulations on being brave enough to stand for council and for the honour of being elected. It’s a big job, thank you for being prepared to do it.

I’m chair of We Love Wakatipu Inc and, in this capacity, I’ve been following council’s governance of QAC closely for the last four years.  We and many others have been critical of the hands-off governance of the previous council.

So we’re heartened by the responses to our airport governance survey, which showed the majority of you are keen on a more hands-on strategic approach from Council and for community involvement.

We also believe that this council has the capacity and work ethic required to proactively use your legal powers under the Local Government Act to govern QAC.

Because this is your responsibility.

Under the LGA, your purpose as councillors is to enable democracy and to promote the four wellbeings of our community, in the present and for the future.

And the principal objective of QAC as a council-controlled trading organisation is “to achieve the objectives of its shareholders, both commercial and non-commercial, as specified in the statement of intent.”

So the statement of intent process is really, really important.  It starts with the strategic objectives set in your statement of expectations.  I urge you to ensure you have strong input, so that you can truly act as our community representatives.

For the last several years, the SOE has been the product of the executive team, with little or no councillor input. And statement of intent agenda items have minimised councillors’ role within the entire process.

I have copied off the relevant parts of the LGA for you.  As you’ll see, you hold a lot of power to set the ‘why’ of QAC’s operations – it is then up to QAC to determine the ‘how’. 

This is the appropriate split between governance – your job – and management, which is QAC’s role.

I draw your attention to clause 6 of schedule eight that expressly empowers you to instruct QAC to modify the SOI – and QAC must comply. In four years, not one agenda item has mentioned this and nor have councillors used it, despite QAC at times ignoring explicit SOE instructions.

My handout ends with unequivocal confirmation from senior legal counsel for both council and QAC that as super-majority shareholder, council is in control of the airport through its statement of intent. 

These are direct quotes from their evidence at the High Court hearing that overturned council’s illegal 100 year lease of Wanaka Airport to QAC.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has shown you what is possible in terms of councils governing their council-controlled trading organisations. The Auckland Transport chair who resigned is chair of QAC.

I certainly don’t suggest you copy Mayor Brown’s modus operandi, but it does point out that the dictate of the last four years that councillors should keep their sticky beaks out of CCTO governance can be challenged. 

Consultation since 2018 has consistently shown tourism losing its social licence through over-tourism and its myriad downstream effects. Even through Covid, there’ve been repeated calls for a tourism reset.

The latest draft of the regenerative tourism plan indicates this group has listened to community feedback on this front. This was a refreshing change.

We look forward to this also happening around the council table.  We are encouraged by your campaign comments, Mayor Lewers, that you would.

We’d especially encourage council to have a conversation with our community about how we want Queenstown Lakes to develop, how to manage growth and all its attendant issues.

Again, thank you and I look forward to watching your work with delight.

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