We Love Wakatipu Inc commentary, 26 April 2022

Crux published our We Love Wakatipu Inc commentary on the dismissal of QLDC governance by QAC, which you can read HERE.

Further to this article, if you would like to read the full draft SOI, HERE is the link. If you would rather a quick summary, below are some key items of note:

Over-tourism returns

QAC forecasts a return to pre-Covid 19 over-tourism levels within two years.

Some strategic pull back

Wording of ZQN’s “our strategy” section shows clearly QAC has clawed back from its previous regional hub aspirations and the dual airport strategy, which would have seen Wanaka Airport growing to the current size of ZQN within decades. With this overflow tap turned off, does this mean QAC’s new but unstated objective will be for ZQN to cater for all 7 million PAX they expect to land in the district by 2040?

ANB commitment – but over-tourism potential still exists

The exact wording of the ANB promise: “We will manage aeronautical growth at Queenstown Airport within the existing noise boundaries. Queenstown Airport can cater for organic and manageable growth in passenger and aircraft movements to and from the region in the future through a combination of advances in aircraft technology, including larger and quieter narrow-bodied jets, and effective management of its existing noise boundary capacity.”

What it doesn’t say is by how much these measures/technology will enable them to overreach their passenger target or what this means in terms of over-tourism or greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon-Zero…but ground ops only

QAC is committed to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or earlier – but only for ground operations. And despite previous PR murmurings that they would, there is no commitment to measure scope two and three emissions, such as those from airplanes while using the airport, or the flights themselves.

There is no mention of the impacts of New Zealand or global climate change responses or flight shaming under financial risks, though they will complete a climate risk and opportunity assessment by the end of FY23.

Capex, concrete, and climate

Capital investment includes $14 million on runway, apron and taxiway in FY24. Will this be put through QLDC’s Climate and Biodiversity Plan climate impact lens?

Tarras – joint venture?

Interesting choice of new wording for how it’s going to fight Christchurch Airport’s proposed Tarras international airport: “QAC’s strategic planning will consider Christchurch International Airport Ltd’s (CIAL) proposal to plan and seek approval for a new international wide body jet capable airport with direct long haul links to Asia and the Americas, with the intention of safeguarding the operational and financial position of the company within the frameworks of the Commerce Act.” 

The proposed Tarras Airport could have a runway long enough to take wide bodied jets, which ZQN never can. CIAL has announced no business plan or target markets. They have said wide bodied jets were more greenhouse gas efficient and could carry Central Otago’s horticultural freight, which ZQN’s planes can’t. 

And, by the way, local councils can engage in joint undertakings and joint or cooperative activities (s12 of the LGA), if in the best interests of their communities.  Now there’s a radical thought.

Constitutional review nixed – but should it have been?

Another related issue.  One of the councillor amendments that failed at the February QLDC meeting was that Council should review the QAC Constitution. Council’s executive team pushed back at that meeting, saying QAC had reviewed it last year and found it “fit for purpose,” and a legal review would cost a lot.

However, Mike Theelen made that judgement on his own and councillors had not seen QAC’s review. And yet, under the LGA, the contents of the QAC Constitution are vital. Council can only require change to the SOI (and therefore ensure that QAC’s objectives meet council’s objectives for our community’s economic, environmental, social and community well-being) if it’s consistent with QAC’s Constitution. So why are councillors so forcefully discouraged from ensuring QAC’s Constitution fits community needs, not just those of directors unaccountable to and largely divorced from the community they are meant to serve?

Crux, 4 March, 2022

Crux’s Peter Newport says emails he’s obtained through official information legislation reveal strong behind-the-scenes lobbying by Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult for Queenstown Lakes airport growth and against the proposed Tarras International Airport. 

Boult’s emails show repeated and direct communications with Auckland and Queenstown Airport CEOs and QAC directors. One states he will “push” a trans-Tasman bubble idea from then-director Michael Stiassny to the Otago Daily Times. This is not how independent media is meant to work.

Sometimes he cc’s his trusted insiders – CEO Mike Theelen, corporate services manager Meaghan Miller and communications and governance manager Naell Crosby-Roe. However, the emails are not shared with his fellow councillors. Hmmmmm.

The thing is, he has confused his roles.  He is not meant to be acting as chair of RealNZ, the South Island’s biggest tourism company, nor as CEO of the council.

As Mayor of the council that owns three quarters of the airport company (and Wanaka Airport), his role is to act within “the formal governance structures that are designed to deliver accountability, adherence to policy, transparency and community engagement,” as Crux says.

That means any line he is pushing should have first been discussed and agreed with his councillors. And they should know what he is advocating, to whom, and for whose benefit. They should not find out through the media.

He should be representing his community – who have made quite clear their opposition to expansion at both Queenstown and Wanaka airports. He has no mandate to meddle in airport proposals outside his district – nor speak, unbidden and uninformed, on either that community’s or our community’s feelings on it.

LINK to the article in CRUX

Photo credit: David Williams

WLW commentary on QLDC meeting, 4 February 2022

Great work by three of our councillors led to considerable steps forward in QLDC’s governance of Queenstown Airport Corporation during yesterday’s marathon meeting. 

At issue was an inadequate draft statement of expectations for QAC. This is the first step in the statement of intent process, through which council legally has ultimate control over QAC. The SOI is meant to contain the strategic objectives Council wants QAC to achieve and be aligned to council’s mandate of enabling democracy and promoting community well-being.

Councillors Niamh Shaw, Niki Gladding and Esther Whitehead turned around three years of increasingly hands-off, tone-deaf, strategy-deficient governance led by council’s senior management and governance team.

Resultant changes were significant – and largely in line with what We Love Wakatipu Inc advocates have been repeatedly calling for since QAC first proposed expanding its Air Noise Boundaries in 2018. 

In particular – nixing airport noise boundary expansion for the next decade, requiring meaningful council input and community consultation on airport plans, and removing reference to wide-bodied jets, which would never be able to land at the too-short ZQN runway. (See previous public forum submission post for details.)

We are disappointed they did not remove the requirement that QAC build shareholder growth. This is not a legal requirement. And it has been used for years to justify pushing airport growth ahead of community well-being objectives, which are QLDC’s legally mandated responsibility.  Next year…

At the end of an at times lively – or, in the eyes of Cr Penny Clark, “dog’s dinner” – debate lasting some two hours, a total of nine (we think) amendments and additional resolutions were passed on the original staffers’ draft SOE.

We say “we think” because when Cr MacLeod asked if someone could clarify exactly where the substantive resolution ended up after all the amendments and extra resolutions, he was told that “technical advice” was no, they could not do so.

Mayor Boult assured him that he had seen two staffers take good notes and he trusted them.  So, saying, immediately after this assurance, two staff members had different interpretations of one of the amendments…

We acknowledge zoom meetings aren’t easy, but the current council’s relaxed approach to governance process needs to be sharper. Even by the time they put it to the vote, the substantive motion was still not available for councillors or the watching public to see.

So, we don’t know if Mayor Boult’s move at the start of the meeting to remove reference to wide-bodied jets made the cut.  No one disagreed, but no vote was held on it. We assume the minutes will retrospectively make it a formal part of the final motion. Neither we nor our representatives should have to rely on assumptions about the wording of critical votes.

So here is our record of the amendments and resolutions and who voted for what, with added comment where relevant notes were taken:

Cr Niamh Shaw’s amendments:

a. A clear and explicit statement that consultation will be QLDC-led.

Shaw: consultation led by QAC is under their control, for their purposes and not under Local Government Act auspices. Lack of public trust in this. Council control would mean official and transparent process, aimed at achieving council’s mandated purposes.

Vote: Won. Mayor Boult and Cr Lewers voted against.

b. The Strategic Plan and Master Plan must be formally agreed by full council before implementation.

Shaw: required for proper governance of QAC by QLDC. (Some councillors push for this last year, but did not win majority support.)

Vote: Won. Unanimous.

c. Instead of: “as owner of Wānaka Airport, QLDC acknowledges the relationship with QAC to continue with the day-to-day management of the airport. Although not entirely pertinent to the QAC, to note QLDC is not contemplating or planning for the introduction of wide-bodied jets at Wānaka airport. Although the QAC statement of intent’s focus will be Queenstown…”     To read: “Wānaka Airport is under ownership and control of QLDC. In relation to Wānaka Airport, QAC provides a management service agreement. The QAC SOI scope is limited to Queenstown Airport.”

Shaw: QAC no longer has the lease of Wānaka Airport, overturned as illegal by the High Court last year, and so this SOI is irrelevant to it.

Vote: Lost. Crs Gladding, Shaw, Smith and Whitehead voted for it.

Cr Niki Gladding’s amendments:

d. Under strategic direction add: the scope of the QAC Ten-Year Plan and Masterplan must be clearly outlined in the SOI.

Vote: Won. Crs Lewers and Miller voted against.

e. Under strategic direction add: the QAC TYP must clearly align with QLDC’s Well-Being Framework* and its relevant outputs, including the Climate and Biodiversity Action Plan* (*under development).

Vote: Won. Mayor Boult and Crs Clark and Lewers voted against.

f. Strategic direction (c) to read: the QAC Ten-Year Plan must offer certainty that airport operations will remain within the Queenstown Airport Air Noise Boundaries for the next 10 years.

Vote: Won. Cr Clark voted against.

Cr Esther Whitehead’s amendment:

g. Strategic direction (E) to read: the Ten-Year Plan will consider potential commercial/viable utilisation of Queenstown Airport land to shape the strategic direction to enable visitors to use transport networks and encourage mode shift from private vehicles in line with QLDC’s Climate Action Plan, the QLDC 2050 vision, and the Whaiora Grow Well Spatial Plan.

Vote: Won. Unanimous.

Additional resolutions:

Cr Whitehead:

QLDC officers will consider a QAC CCTO governance manual in the 2023 cycle of the SOE, SOI for QAC and report back to full council on its recommendations.

Whitehead: Confusion, community opposition and Judicial Review show the current process is not working. Independent review of Auckland Council’s CCOs suggests we can better govern this entity. Some staff have criticised such a manual as unnecessary and not legally required. Similar to a prenuptial agreement: can still achieve high trust, while protecting all parties.

Vote: Won. Cr Copland voted against.

Cr Shaw:

QLDC will review the QAC constitution by August, 2022.

Shaw: Judicial Review highlighted that the current constitution focuses on the best interests of the corporation, not the shareholders (as did Auditor General review of QAC’s sale of 24.99% of ZQN in 2010). Legal review under council auspices would ensure community’s best interests are central, as QLDC is the super-majority shareholder. Council could have saved a lot on legal costs (e.g. JR) with better process and structure.

Miller: as directed by 2021 SOI, the constitution was legally reviewed by QAC last year and found fit for purpose. However, it did not come back to Council for discussion or information, just okayed by CEO Mike Theelen. An independent council review would “cost a lot – it’s a legal review”.

Vote: Lost. Crs Gladding, Shaw, Smith and Whitehead voted for it.

We Love Wakatipu Inc submission to QLDC zoom meeting, 3 February 2022

Good afternoon, Mayor Boult and councillors,

I hope you all had a restful break.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on behalf of We Love Wakatipu.

I’d like to remind you that every consultation since 2018 has heard over 90% of respondents oppose Air Noise Boundary expansion at Queenstown Airport.

The Chamber of Commerce, many local businesses and our community associations also joined forces to oppose expansion – Councillor Lewers was their spokesperson.

And late last year, QAC’s new CEO, Glen Sowry, stated that he and the QAC board agreed they neither needed nor wanted to expand the ANBs in their 10-year strategic plan. 

Demand would not require it – loss of social licence ruled against it. And quieter, bigger planes will bring more people, more quietly in future decades.

So, it’s hard to understand why your draft SOE leaves the door open to more airport noise – with all the downstream ramifications of incipient over-tourism that our community disliked pre-Covid and has repeatedly stated we want no more of.

This SOE is the ideal opportunity for you to align QAC’s strategic direction with our community’s wellbeing and QAC’s own stated intent.

Under the Local Government Act, your two roles are to enable local democracy and promote our community’s social, environmental, economic and cultural wellbeing.

Our community has clearly indicated that allowing more airport noise would negate both of these goals.

As your own and QAC’s lawyers told the High Court during the Judicial Review that overturned your illegal lease of Wanaka Airport, the SOI gives council “ultimate control” over QAC.

Because under the Act, QAC’s role as a CCTO (council-controlled trading organisation) is to achieve council’s objectives, both commercial and non-commercial, as contained in the SOI. 

This draft SOE kickstarts the SOI process and it should therefore outline council’s objectives for QAC to achieve.

Unfortunately, this draft document yet again abandons this vital governance step and hands control of the reins to QAC.

This is particularly galling within the context of council having agreed last year that QAC could develop their strategic and master plans largely out of reach of your governance, and out of sight of our community.

Even more so because, compared to the 2021 SOE, this draft SOE hugely reduces required commitments from QAC to achieve meaningful input from both council and community.

I sent you all an email yesterday outlining changes to the draft SOE that we believe necessary for you to achieve your legally mandated responsibilities of QAC governance. To reiterate:

  1. Give clear strategic direction that ANBs will not be expanded in QAC’s 10-year plan.
  2. Require specific commitments from QAC to meaningful Council input and community consultation, as per the 2021 SOE.
  3. Remove reference to growth of shareholder value – this is not a legal requirement, and by its nature it undermines your ability to set other strategic objectives that would better achieve council’s mandate.
  4. Remove the gratuitous reference to wide-bodied jets.  ZQN’s runway is too short and cannot be extended, so there is no threat of their use.  There has been zero community consultation on their acceptability. So you have no mandate for this statement, which appears designed purely to justify political opposition to the proposed Tarras Airport, on a false community imperative.

As always, thanks for listening.

We Love Wakatipu Inc commentary and draft QLDC statement of expectations for Queenstown Airport Corporation, 1 February, 2022

What is it about the first half of the name “council-controlled trading organisation” (CCTO) that Council still does not get?

This Thursday, councillors consider the draft 2022 statement of expectations – council’s first opportunity in the annual statement of intent process to set strategic objectives and operational parameters for Queenstown Airport Corporation.

And yet again, they have passed the reins back to QAC.

Here are some initial standouts:

  • The door is left open to Air Noise Boundary expansion at Queenstown Airport – the draft just asks QAC to “offer certainty” for the next 10 years.
  • This despite QAC’s new CEO Glen Sowry clearly stating in interviews late 2021 that QAC’s board had agreed to exclude ANB expansion in their 10-year plan. And despite consistent, clear and strong opposition to ANB expansion in all QAC and council consultation with our community since 2018. So why the prevarication?
  • On the other hand, our community has never been consulted about whether we would accept wide-bodied jets. Yet the draft SOE instructs QAC to neither contemplate nor plan for them at ZQN. They were always a non-starter, as ZQN’s runway would have to be extended either onto the river or the lake to take them. It appears to be more of a stab at making true mayoral claims that the community is against wide-bodied jets when speaking against the proposed Tarras International Airport.
  • An official information act response reveals Council is relying on MartinJenkins’ airport assessment report for inserting this as a community-backed objective in the SOE and its most recent 10-year plan. However, wide-bodied jets are not mentioned in MartinJenkins’ 214-page report and there were no questions about them in consultation. So council has no such mandate.
  • Compared to the 2021 SOE, specific commitment to “proactive” and “meaningful” community consultation with our local community is removed.
  • As is commitment to operating the Queenstown Noise Liaison Committee and creating a parallel committee in Wanaka.
  • And acting on the MoUs with Dunedin and Invercargill airports to foster collaborative working relationships.
  • This year’s draft SOE also substantially downgrades council’s expectation of QAC taking heed of council direction on its 10-year plan. From expecting that the strategic plan process will “reinforce QAC’s commitment to proactively engage with Council on the draft plan,” the 2022 version becomes an insipid expectation that “QAC must seek informal feedback from QLDC” on the 10-year plan, the masterplan and strategic direction.  “Informal feedback” will likely wield little, if any, influence.
  • But they have retained the myth that as a CCTO, QAC is required to seek to grow shareholder value. There is no such requirement in the Local Government Act.
  • QAC’s primary objective as a CCTO under the LGA is to “achieve the objectives of its shareholders, both commercial and non-commercial, as specified in the statement of intent”. 
  • And under the LGA, council’s two roles are to enable democracy and to promote the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-beings of our communities, in the present and future.
  • By annually reinforcing this false imperative to grow shareholder value, council’s senior executive and governance team continually undermine councillors’ collective ability and power to set other strategic objectives for QAC that would better help meet council’s primary well-being and democratic objectives.

Both parties’ lawyers confirmed to the September 2020 High Court Judicial Review into QLDC’s illegal Wanaka Airport lease that Council had “ultimate control” of QAC through its SOI.

In the words of QAC’s Chris Curran, “as a CCTO, QAC is required to comply with its SOI (s60 of the LGA). QLDC retains the power to modify QAC’s SOI – and therefore control QAC’s actions – as it sees fit.…QLDC holds 75.01% of QAC’s shares. That super-majority shareholding itself gives QLDC the power to pass special resolutions, unilaterally amend QAC’s SOI, control major transactions, and amend QAC’s constitution as it sees fit.” 

So why is Queenstown Lakes District Council so reluctant to apply this control in the SOE to clearly state Queenstown Airport’s Air Noise Boundary will not be expanded – despite clear direction from both its community and its CCTO?

There have been some improvements in this latest draft:

  • An explicit instruction that the SOI must include clear objectives, clear pathways for delivery and clear reporting against measurable performance targets for all objectives. Yay! The clear reporting and measurable targets have been seriously lacking to date.
  • It’s good to see instruction that QAC work with airlines to reduce carbon emissions – rather than just rely on encouragement, as they do on the noise mitigation front. Admittedly, the carbon neutrality goal only applies to ground operations, so there could be an accusation of greenwashing, but we understand this is a sincere policy direction for QAC management.

WLW also understands councillors have had an opportunity to offer feedback on the senior management team’s SOE draft, some of which was taken on board. Their role is to represent our community’s interests and promote our well-being. To achieve this through the SOE and SOI, we need strong advocacy from our political representatives at Thursday’s first full council meeting of 2022.  We will watch with interest.

National Business Review, 14 January 2022

Both Queenstown Airport Corporation and Auckland International Airport Ltd have employed new CEOs over recent months. They bring very different perspectives to the helm of the two companies running Queenstown Airport.

Recent posts have covered QAC CEO Glen Sowry’s change in QAC’s tack. In this article – published in National Business Review and the Otago Daily Times – FlightPlan2050 questions whether Auckland Airport’s Carrie Hurihanganui might bring further change in direction.

She was Air New Zealand’s chief ground operations officer when, in 2018, her submission to Queenstown Airport Corporation’s air noise boundary expansion proposal argued a new international airport was needed “that can cater for the future growth of all domestic and international travel to Otago.” 

Her submission was cited as a trigger for Christchurch International Airport Ltd’s $45 million purchase of 750 ha of land near Tarras last year.

We Love Wakatipu Inc interview and commentary, 16 December 2021

There is unlikely to be high enough demand to require expansion of Queenstown Airport’s air noise boundary (ANB) during the next decade.

That’s the conclusion new Queenstown Airport Corporation CEO Glen Sowry reached soon after taking over the reins three and a half months ago.

Reduced passenger demand in the uncertain wake of Covid and the capacity-boosting combination of noise reduction technology and bigger planes persuaded him that pushing against the clear and strong community opposition to ANB expansion was both unnecessary and unwise.

He said that the We Love Wakatipu/Protect Queenstown and FlightPlan2050 websites helped him understand this strong community opposition and the causes for it.

Sowry told We Love Wakatipu that he was employed, in part, to rebuild social licence, improve community engagement and “to drive, lead and shape the strategic direction for the next decade”.

In other words, QAC’s board was open to changing the strategic direction – of growth to meet airline demand, regardless of strong community opposition – that had so harmed its community relationships and social licence over recent years.

In early November, Sowry announced that QAC’s new 10-year strategic plan would reflect what was possible within the existing ANB, recognising strong feedback from most sectors of the community had rejected the level of growth the proposed expansion was proxy for.  The QAC board, he said, was fully behind this change.

He said his crystal ball was “rather foggy,” but agreed that passenger demand was unlikely to revert to 2019 levels for “some time”. QAC documents identify 2024 as the financial year both dividend and passenger numbers will return to something like pre-Covid levels.

Over the past two years, We Love Wakatipu has campaigned to get both QAC and council to acknowledge that QAC’s forecasts arguing for ANB expansion did not include A321neos – according to manufacturers’ specs, 25% larger and considerably quieter than the current fleet of A320s.

Sowry said Air New Zealand has committed to buying 12 A321neos for domestic routes over the next several years and to flying these to Queenstown. We started seeing and hearing them this week, bringing down plane loads of Aucklanders.

It took an official information act request from Protect Queenstown to finally, in April this year, get acknowledgement from QAC that these planes were not factored into their argument for ANB expansion.

We Love Wakatipu and QAC have different perspectives on the impact these quieter and larger planes will have on the need for any eventual ANB expansion.  More research is necessary.

But the point is, the only control that council and our community have over QAC’s (and some of our councillors’) growth aspirations is the ANB. 

We can’t control what kind of planes airlines use to create the noise within the ANB. Quieter, bigger planes mean more planes carrying more tourists can arrive within the approved “bucket of noise” allowed over 24 hours. 

Transparency and accuracy of QACs sound monitoring is therefore vital in terms of ANB expansion being a proxy for growth. Remembering, of course, that technology (especially once we have electric planes flying domestically) will keep getting quieter – and the ANB therefore more capacious.

So, kudos to Sowry for acknowledging that A321neos will be a big part of ZQN’s future and, at a recent Shaping Our Future meeting, committing QAC to measuring their noise profiles on landing and take-off at ZQN.  We trust the science, methodology and results will be made public.

He says noise profiles vary with temperature, wind and topography. Any plane will fly more quietly with a headwind on a cold day. Queenstown’s steep climb path is inherently noisier than a flatter exit.

He said ZQN’s future was as a “destination airport, not a hub”.  QAC’s previous strong narrative had been that ZQN was the hub airport for the lower South Island.

The difference might be in definition. Sowry agrees visitors (and locals) fan out around Fiordland and Central Otago “because this is the most conveniently located access point”.

Sowry says his previous experience as CEO of Housing New Zealand/Kāinga Ora has given him an understanding of how QAC must operate as a council-controlled trading organisation. So, he says, he understands QAC’s legally mandated role is “to meet the objectives, both commercial and non-commercial, of its shareholders as stated in its statement of intent” (SOI).

Of course, the Housing Corporation Act, its purposes, objectives and modus operandi are quite different from the Local Government Act.

Under the LGA, the SOI is the document that is meant to outline the strategic objectives that our councillors have deliberated and decided on for the Airport Corporation to achieve. To date, We Love Wakatipu understands, full council has neither deliberated nor decided on strategic objectives for QAC during the past four years.

These objectives should meet councillors’ legal role and responsibility under the LGA, which is to facilitate the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of our community.

It is councillors’ job to then define the resultant cogent strategic objectives to be contained within the SOI.

These objectives set the broad parameters that act as guardrails within which QAC operates, Sowry says, while also meeting its legal and fiduciary responsibilities (such as financial solvency, health and safety, and lifeline asset provision).

There is no law that requires QAC to make a profit or meet airline demands, despite council agenda claims to the contrary over recent years.

Beyond any commercial objectives set for it by Council under the SOI, two different Acts require it only “to conduct its affairs in accordance with sound business practice” and that the airport “be operated or managed as a commercial undertaking”.

As the majority shareholder of QAC, setting any other commercial objective such as making profit or growing shareholder value is totally under the control of our council.

Sowry acknowledges this. He has had one meeting with the steering group and met with most councillors – he has invited all of them to meet one-on-one. He understands councillors were elected for different mandates and have different perspectives.

However, he might not have known that nine of the 11 councillors promised on the election hustings to oppose ANB expansion, so their mandate is pretty clear. Even if the council leadership team and most councillors have ignored this to date.

Sowry says Housing New Zealand taught him the importance of community engagement and social licence.  “I know what it looks like and feels like when it’s done well.  And what it looks and feels like when it’s not.”

He has been made well aware in his three and a half months on the job that in the last few years, it has not looked or felt good. “We have a good opportunity in the next six months to get it on track.” He is aware that this will involve rebuilding both transparency and engagement.

Queenstown Airport

WLW letter to mayor and councillors, 14 December 2021

Dear Mayor and Councillors,

I had an interesting meeting with new Queenstown Airport Corporation CEO Glen Sowry late last week, during which he reaffirmed his earlier media comment that QAC would not seek expansion of the air noise boundary (ANB) at Queenstown Airport in the 10-year strategic plan to be presented to Council next year.

He acknowledged that to do so would be both unwise and unnecessary in the face of noise reduction technology and bigger planes, reduced passenger demand in the uncertain wake of Covid and community feedback to previous ANB extension proposals.

Mr Sowry also reversed the previous QAC policy of ignoring the huge advances of the A321 neos (admitted by QAC only after I put in a LGOIMA request earlier this year) and committed to measuring the on-the-ground noise reduction thus gained. He said Air New Zealand has already ordered 12 of these quieter and larger planes, for use on domestic routes and particularly to/from Queenstown.

He said that although his crystal ball was “rather foggy,” it would be some time before passenger demand reverted to 2019 levels and that the board was fully behind this strategic direction change.

So, we very much look forward to this QAC commitment being reflected in QLDC’s statement of expectations which, I’m thinking, should be being prepared about now to trigger the months-long SOE/SOI process.

Further, we very much hope that councillors and the executive leadership team will engage fully both with the SOE/SOI process and a meaningful conversation with our community about the way forward in the wake of Covid. There has been much talk of a reset, but little visibility thereof.   And little two-way communication between the community and our council representatives.

Particularly, it would be refreshing to know that councillors have had a thorough discussion of strategic objectives you want QAC to achieve through the SOI to promote our economic, environment, social and cultural well-being. This is your role under the LGA, and it should be written into the SOE and the SOI as the basic paradigm QAC operates under.  It is well within your legal mandate to include operating within the existing ANB as one such objective.

The role of your SOE should be for councillors to set strategic purpose and direction for QAC and to direct QAC as to the nature and scope of its activities. And these should be decided by discussion of full council, not by QAC, the steering group or council’s executive leadership team.

Remember, QAC’s principal objective under the Local Government Act is simply “to achieve the objectives of its shareholders, both commercial and non-commercial, as specified in the statement of intent”. What is written into the SOI is what QAC is compelled to do.

Last year’s SOE claimed that QAC “is required to have a commitment to retaining and growing long-term shareholder value”. This is not true – there is no requirement under any law for QAC to make a profit, meet international airline demand or grow shareholder value. The effect of including this false claim in the SOE is to reduce council’s strategic control over QAC, by providing an “out clause” for other purposes under the catch-all of retaining and growing shareholder value.

Beyond any commercial objectives set for it by Council under the SOI,  QAC’s only financial legal requirements are to “conduct its affairs in accordance with sound business practice” and to operate or manage the airport “as a commercial undertaking”.

Many thanks for the work you do on our behalf. And all the best for the festive season ahead – I hope you all get a good break and that Covid’s community spread does not hit our district too hard.

Ngā mihi nui

Cath Gilmour, We Love Wakatipu Inc chair

WLW commentary, 6 December 2021

Transparency is fundamental to trust in our politicians and the workings of democracy. As are following due process and legal requirements. 

Especially when it involves potential conflicts of interest of our mayor as chair of the South Island’s biggest tourism company.

So it was disappointing to see in a Crux article on Friday that Mayor Boult has again failed to be transparent about his tourism company directorships.

This time, the Register of Interests on QLDC’s website had not disclosed seven directorships associated with his chairmanship of Real Group Ltd (previously Wayfare Group Ltd).  Mr Boult’s lawyers advised he had disclosed this by using the word “Group” when notifying council of his new role.

That doesn’t seem to quite cut the mustard.

But it was an improvement on last time this company restructured – when his chairmanship of Real Journeys was removed, and nothing put in its place.

Not even the fact that he had instead been made chair of Wayfare Group, the “uber-group” comprising, among other South Island tourism businesses reliant on “bums on seats” tourism, Real Journeys, Cardrona Alpine Resort, Go Orange and Canyon Food and Brew Company.

In the campaign lead up to the last election, when challenged by both Newsroom and Wanaka Sun about the potential conflict of interest his role as chair of Real Journeys posed, Mr Boult told them he had resigned so there was no conflict.  He did not acknowledge this was to take up the new role as chair of the uber group.

This new role did not come out in public until the chair of We Love Wakatipu Inc challenged Mr Boult’s story at the August 8, 2019, council meeting, pointing out both the lack of transparency in Mr Boult’s media comments and the fact this chair role was not on the council’s Registry of Interests as it legally ought to be.

Within half an hour, while the council meeting was still in full flow, QLDC’s PR man had put out a disclaimer saying it was in “administrative slip up”.  Quite a contagious one, it seems.

In March 2020, by which time Wayfare Group also owned Treble Cone, the mayor’s councillors cleared him of a conflict of interest charge on this front, considering his board fee was not a substantive part of his income.

Fair enough, we assume – certainly compared to his remuneration as chair of Stonewood before it went under – it probably wasn’t. Not that we know.

But there are two other fundamental measures of conflicts of interest to consider:

  • That their role/relationship did not give them an interest greater than a general member of the public in an issue and
  • That a general member of the public would not perceive there might be such a conflict of interest.

Under both these tests, being chair of Real Group Ltd (and director of its seven companies) must surely count as a conflict when it comes to decisions like whether QAC should run our airport primarily for tourism growth – or to meet the community’s social, cultural, environmental, and economic well-being as required under the Local Government Act.

Mr Boult is the only councillor to have voted each time to allow QAC to continue with its air noise boundary (ANB) expansion plans. The only time he pulled back slightly was at the same meeting that We Love Wakatipu Inc revealed his “administrative slip up”.

That is when he unilaterally announced that council had put a halt on ANB expansion planning until after a socio-economic report – later done by MartinJenkins – had been done to guide councillors’ airport decisions.

This was a deft move by the mayor to kick this contentious issue down the road until after the election, in the wake of growing community opposition to QAC’s and the council leadership team’s expansion plans.

You will remember that council has since ignored the MartinJenkins report (they have never even had a roundtable discussion of it) after it revealed that community opposition still ran deep, despite the study’s deeply flawed methodology and text that appeared designed to understate such opposition.

So yes, it is really disappointing that this pattern of behaviour to deflect/avoid/hide questions of conflict of interests continues.

For one thing, it suggests that the mayor thinks our community is stupid. For another, the betrayal of community trust inflicts a lack of trust in the whole of council.

We recently heard the new CEO of Queenstown Airport Corporation publicly say that expansion of the ANB will not be part of QAC’s strategic plan for the next 10 years. 

We assume he had QAC board approval to make this statement. But it does not become real until it has been adopted by our councillors in their Statement of Expectations and the resultant QAC Statement of Intent.

We hope that QLDC leadership team’s and councillors’ 2022 New Year’s resolutions include making sure their community can learn once again to trust our council, its processes, its legitimacy and its decisions.

(If you would like to read further detail as to the instances mentioned above, check out our Facebook and webpage posts of the time.)

Thanks to the ODT – a couple of years old, but still sadly pertinent.

Christchurch International Airport Limited report, 24 September 202

Below is Christchurch Airport’s preliminary airport assessment, the first step in no doubt many before the airport might be built. It indicates the site is suitable for a 2.2km runway, for domestic and short-haul international flights. Potentially, a 3km runway could accommodate wide-body jets flying beyond Australia. Dedicated freight aircraft could connect with Australian freight hubs and perhaps further afield. New technology, infrastructure and efficiencies would mean it meets national carbon emissions reduction objectives to 2050 and beyond. If not, it would fail to get approval. Validation and planning are expected to take another two years, with construction potentially 2027–29. Read on for more details…