We Love Wakatipu Inc commentary, 4 December 2020

Great to hear from Cr Niamh Shaw, in response to our recent Facebook post, that full council will workshop their 2021 statement of expectations for QAC before Christmas.

It is this SOE that is meant to give strategic direction to the airport corp’s statement of intent (SOI).  And in turn, the SOI is supposed to give QLDC “total control” of QAC operations (quoting the QAC and QLDC lawyers at High Court late September, contrary to advice they have given councillors in every prior agenda…but we’re thrilled they are finally agreeing to our advice of the last two years).

At council’s October 29 meeting, Cr Shaw pushed against the joint QAC/QLDC steering group retaining control over the SOE.  She and other councillors spoke of the lack of communications between this group (four QAC board and executive team members plus Jim Boult, Penny Clark, Quentin Smith and Glyn Lewers) and the rest of the “team”.

She shouldn’t have had to. Setting strategic direction is councillors’ job.  Having QAC at the table while discussing how QLDC should control QAC operations to ensure they meet council’s objectives for community well-being is a bit like having the fox in co-charge of the henhouse.

We have elsewhere suggested a “strategic direction starter pack”.  We look forward to seeing at least some of adopted. It is nearly Christmas after all :-).

We would be more confident of that if council’s website showed the 2020 SOE accurately. Instead, it misses out the vital amendment successfully pushed through by Cr John MacDonald – that QAC must operate within the air noise boundaries

So maybe that is why the fourth SOI in two years, agreed to by the majority of councillors in October, still allows QAC to push the boundary, just not ‘til July 1, 2023.  That’s not a big concession from QAC – it’s not exactly going to be needed before then. 

But it’s easier, perhaps, to keep pushing the process while people are focused elsewhere, panicked about the economy and there aren’t so many planes creating the excessive noise and other downstream impacts we were all railing against.

We asked council’s PR man and Cr MacDonald to explain how come the adopted SOE was not on the website, as legally required. We haven’t heard back from the PR man as yet, but Cr MacDonald’s response was that there is “No point directing the past, working on the future now”.

Which is fine – and good news that they are. Hopefully with community well-being and feedback front of mind. 

But it’s concerning that the background admin and processes on which good governance depends are so sloppy that no one bothered to update such a vital and strategic change to the SOE. 

And it seems, no one else noticed, despite the fact that the two SOIs based on it were so blatantly in contravention of this clear direction given by councillors, against the strong pushback of the mayor, who (with absolutely zero legal foundation) warned that Auckland Airport could take them to court for doing so. Within a day, they had denied that they would even think of doing so.

Otago Daily Times, 30 November 2020

Lawyers have now been called in for the next round of what from the outside looks like a personal campaign by mayor Jim Boult against Christchurch International Airport’s Tarras proposal.

We don’t know if councillors had the chance to okay his initial letter to Christchurch Council, describing CIAL’s actions as predatory and of questionable morality. They should have.  He is representing councillors and residents when he writes such an aggressively toned letter to another council. 

Interestingly, the final paragraph of this story in the print version has been extracted from the online version. We provide it here as it raises a serious question of transparency and whether this is a personal mayoral campaign or representative of full council: “He was also unable to comment as to whether the subsequent advice would be presented to full council.”  

Really? That there might be a question over this is bad enough.  Even worse is what looks awfully like political control of our local media.

LINK to article

Otago Daily Times, 26 November 2020

Well, no Jim, it isn’t. Important though he and we might be :-), Christchurch International Airport Ltd is unlikely to make a $45 million international airport bid just to dig a hole for us. It has far more to do with the hole already dug for their own airport by the earthquakes and their aftermath.  Central Lakes offers them a growth alternative, and pilots a far safer flying option than ZQN. Remember QAC also had this strategic option but chose not to exercise it.

LINK to article here.

We note that the ODT removed the video originally embedded in this article, after we questioned the veracity of a claimed “more than 10,000 residents” who would be impacted by the noise, fumes, lighting and flight path of wide-bodied jets landing at Tarras. 

Although unidentified in the ODT video, Chris Goddard told us he based his claim on census information and flight path assumptions that would have jets looping over either Cromwell or Lake Hawea and reaching a maximum 150m height by halfway down Lake Dunstan.  Wide-bodied but under-powered perhaps?

That’s one perspective. Or to enable us to compare apples with apples, let’s look at a 12 km radius (beyond which impacts would be minimal) around the three potential Central/Queenstown Lakes international airports:

  • Tarras – 100 residences total.
  • Queenstown – everyone living in Queenstown, Frankton, Arrowtown and in the area stretching from Gibbston to Closeburn to Wye Creek.
  • Wānaka – everyone from Wanaka to Luggate to Hawea.

21 Nov 2020

We Love Wakatipu Inc commentary re-QAC director Simon Flood’s response to councillor’s question, November 20, 2020

A seriously pertinent governance question was asked of QAC director Simon Flood at the October 29 meeting by Cr Niki Gladding.  His response? You judge.

Niki Gladding: Is it consistent to temporarily put a hold on ANB expansion at ZQN and growth plans at Wanaka within an SOI that includes key objectives planning for growth of air and land footprints and meeting demand? Can’t understand why the company hasn’t put together an SOI in which the nature and scope of activities is aligned with what you say will do? 

Simon Flood: The reality is that if you look at Queenstown now, three months ago, or in another three months, it is going to be very different in terms of expectations. The SOI is our best guess/forecast of how the situation is going to evolve. We don’t need expansion now because the planes aren’t there. But the needs of the community evolve as the community evolves. It would be extremely brave of anyone, either pro or against the airport, to set in concrete today when we are in a period of extraordinary flux the rules that will apply for ever and a day going forward. I think the best thing you can do is lay out how you can see it. Let’s be brutal about this, we make money out of people landing at the airport and for the foreseeable future, we won’t be making as much. So it would not be responsible to commit to spending money on, for instance, developing a second airport when we don’t need it at the moment. The SOI is very consistent in saying how we see things going out to June 2023 – but we don’t know what happens after that, and what does happen after that, depends on consultation.

We Love Wakatipu Inc thoughts on that: In other words, zero commitment to what both council and community have quite clearly demanded – for QAC to operate within its air noise boundaries. The reasons our community have so strongly opposed expansion for over two years now don’t disappear with Covid or recovery from it. The impacts on our community of over-tourism, excessive noise, loss of strategic control and so on don’t “evolve” in three, six, 12 or 120 months. And QAC’s narrative continues to studiously and silently ignore the fact they can easily reach their stated target PAX numbers just by insisting airlines fly the bigger, quieter A321s already in use.

From a governance perspective, the whole point of the statement of intent is for council to set the strategic objectives it wants QAC to operate within. Setting these strategic paradigms is the legislated right and responsibility of our councillors and mayor. Their legal role is to ensure the four well-beings of our community, not profits of airlines, QAC or the big “bums on seats” tourism companies whose profits largely go out of Queenstown Lakes.

And consultation? We have had lots of it and it has all been ignored to date – by QAC, QLDC executive team, the mayor and the majority of our councillors.  Despite the mayor and our councillors having “total control,” as their and QAC’s lawyers have told the High Court, of QAC operations through the statement of intent.  Heck, they even put this as an objective in their statement of expectations for the SOI. So the question remains – as asked by Cr Gladding – how come the SOI doesn’t reflect this? 

Simon Flood’s response offers a hint – QAC has zero plan of being controlled, as they should be by law, by Council in the best interests of our community.  And the majority of councillors, and certainly our mayor, seem content to ignore their power to exert this control, as is their legislated governance role, in favour of big business demands.

And yes, in case you were wondering – if QAC succeeds in slowly grinding us down and pushing through expansion of the ANB, this means they would be able to land millions more passengers than they claim they are targeting.  And the mayor, councillors and their executive team would have passed up their – our – one opportunity to control this.

Newsroom, 11 November 2020

Barring a technological miracle, the most effective way to reduce aviation’s climate impacts might be to disincentivise flying.

Note that QAC’s carbon reduction efforts are limited to their ground operations because they are not responsible for the emissions of planes landing or taking off. While aviation emissions equate to 2% of total climate change gas emissions currently, growing demand – if unmitigated – is forecast to take that to 25% by 2050.

LINK to Article

We Love Wakatipu Inc commentary, 13 November 2020

Apart from Chamber of Commerce spokesman Craig Douglas and two small local scenic flight companies who mistakenly appeared to think QAC’s SOI would shut down Queenstown Airport, community input to public forum was strongly against this fourth version in under two years.  As it has been each time.

Primary reasons why have been traversed each of these times and include community opposition to the multiple ramifications of air noise boundary (ANB) expansion, climate change, lack of strategic direction from Council, no measurable targets and retention of growth as a key objective.

Plus the fact nine of 10 councillors had promised during last year’s election campaign they opposed ANB expansion, and their total neglect of both the findings of the MartinJenkins socio-economic report they had commissioned to guide them and of the confirmation from both QAC and QLDC lawyers they have “total control” over QAC.

Two councillors, Quentin Smith and Niki Gladding, voted against agreeing to the SOI. A third, Niamh Shaw, proposed an amendment to review the terms of reference of the joint QAC/QLDC steering group that formulated the SOI. This was agreed to unanimously.

So, what did our councillors say on this vital community issue, one of their most important governance responsibilities? In the order that they spoke, here are summaries:

Penny Clark

While some are worried about it, she is “fed up” with the SOI process and with another due for consideration in three months, “it’s blowing my brains”. She asked for the next one to be made succinct, not 33 pages. “I can’t manage it. I want to see a critical summary of two or three pages,” telling councillors what QAC think they can do in the next decade. Bite-sized, high visionary stuff is required “because we really don’t know” what the future will bring.

NB: the SOI is meant to be the tool through which QLDC controls QAC’s operations by specifying its strategic objectives for the Airport Corporation.  It is also meant to outline how QAC’s meeting of these objectives is monitored and measured, financial forecasts et cetera.  What is particularly concerning about Cr Clark’s comments is that she is a member of the SOI joint steering group. This role requires both capacity and energy.

John MacDonald

“I was the one who drove the fact that I wanted you to operate within the existing noise boundaries and I’m really pleased to see that in the document…I think people who think we have a mechanism for locking it in forever and ever are dreaming. I don’t really think that is a possibility. There will be another council, there will be another board, they will be different people. And to me, it falls on us every year to tell you what we expect and I don’t think we have done this adequately in the past.” Councillors’ statement of expectations for the next SOI needs to be clear and concise.

NB: the SOI still includes the objective of expanding its land and air footprints to meet growth demands and only limits QAC to not applying for expansion of the ANB until after June 30, 2023. Both QAC and QLDC lawyers told the High Court in September that the SOI and council’s super majority shareholding gave council “total control” of QAC.  This control includes setting the strategic paradigms within which QAC must operate.

Quentin Smith

As a member of the joint steering group, he confirmed there had been robust conversations, but he could not vote to agree to it for three fundamental reasons. He is an advocate of strategic direction, properly consulted on with the community and signed off by Council. This is the map to the future needed to give some certainty to ratepayers, Council and QAC. No such strategic direction has been given. “Quite frankly, we still lack a concise vision of where we are heading for the airport.” Secondly, the SOI ignored the strategic risk posed by the proposed Tarras International Airport. “I would have hoped QAC would be developing a strategy or plan to address its operation if Tarras was successful. It’s not lost on me that CIAL have identified a strategic opportunity, purchased strategic land and have “committed” to progressing the proposal within 10 years, all in the middle of Covid. QAC don’t appear to have an eye to the future and certainly not in a strategic way”. And thirdly, the lack of climate change emissions reporting “which in 2020 seems to be extraordinary”.

A brave move from Quentin as a member of the steering group that formulated the SOI, and cogent argument as to why he felt he had to vote against it.

Calum MacLeod

On climate change and future direction, “I get that you’re waiting on council and council is waiting on you”. He’d like to see a regenerative rather than sustainable dual airport model as a key objective, as sustainable “means continuing to operate as we are and we need to be more future focused”. New Zealand Inc needs to have a conversation about potentially limiting tourist numbers: “That is the security I think everyone is swimming towards – it’s number of flights, air noise boundaries staying, Wanaka not expanding, Tarras disappearing, whatever it is. But we can’t constrain it. Is New Zealand Inc going to have that conversation?“  QAC encouragement of council and community to use this respite, to have a conversation about growth and develop its long-term strategic plan, is key.

Actually, it is totally within councillors’ powers to set strategic objectives, that QAC must comply with, to ensure no ANB expansion and no wide body jets at Wanaka. Tarras is outside their control, unless they decide to collaborate with Christchurch International Airport Ltd. And the community keenly awaits that discussion on growth and long-term strategic planning – but requests for this have been ignored by council for the past two years. QAC CEO Colin Keel’s response to Cllr MacLeod: “There are some market dynamics that are changing that will give New Zealand time for those conversations,” and as a board member of the TIA, these should be prompted as soon as possible. Many of the wide-bodied jets currently parked in deserts around the world are unlikely to ever fly again, cutting capacity and increasing costs for long haul flights to New Zealand.

Craig ‘Ferg’ Ferguson

This SOI is “creeping in the right direction” but it worries him that it is muted around the subject of the proposed Tarras International Airport. “In my book, an invader should always be met and challenged.” This time around, “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.”

This is Ferg’s third term, so he has gone through the SOI process some 10 times, four in the last two years.

Heath Copland

Supportive of the SOI and Cr Niamh’s Shaw’s amendment, which called for the terms of reference of the joint QLDC/QAC steering group to be reviewed and council statement of expectations for QAC’s SOI to be considered by councillors no later than their 4 March council meeting.

Cr Copland had to leave the meeting early. He had tried to speak earlier but was stopped by the Mayor.

Niki Gladding

There had been very little communication between the steering group and other councillors and for the latter, very little participation in the SOI. Again, they have an SOI that assumes QAC operations will grow to meet demand, retaining the opportunity to expand air noise boundaries and acquire land. Coordinates of Wanaka Airport’s two runways are already plotted on the airport designation. Concerned that the nature and scope of the SOI is permissive and key objectives are very clear about facilitating growth, meaning QAC could move forward on such expansion through this SOI. Agreeing to it would be abdicating responsibility to set the airport’s strategic objectives. But she does support all councillors sitting around the table, discussing the MartinJenkins report, and setting limits to growth as required by council’s climate emergency declaration. “And if we can do that, sit around the table as a team, and set strategic objectives, that’s when we are going to see an SOI that isn’t just about kicking the can down the road.”

The joint steering group was set up to act as a conduit between council and the airport corp, but we have heard repeated complaints that it acts to cut out most councillors from what should be their strategic discussions and decisions.

Niamh Shaw

Speaking to her amendment, she said the SOI was still a long way from what they committed to last December. Until council is more definitive about what they want QAC to achieve, QAC’s hands are to some extent tied in achieving what they both want. Councillors should express their long-term objectives for QAC through their statement of expectations. This should be a “full council cooperative endeavour…It is really important it is our document, not the steering group’s.” This clear strategic direction should then be delivered by QAC’s master plans. They should consider a review of QAC’s constitution. Policies and objectives for QAC need to be agreed and put in council’s 10 year plan. Councillors need to discuss the MartinJenkins report and, once adjudicated, the Wanaka Stakeholders Group’s Judicial Review, and the implications of these for QAC.

The QLDC/QAC steering group has no minutes, no accountability and very little communication with outside councillors. The statement of expectations should be a council-only document. It should be based on robust councillor discussion of their strategic objectives for QAC, which should include the MartinJenkins findings and other community feedback already gained.  Reviewing the steering group’s ToR’s is a step in the right direction – we wonder if it will be allowed to happen in time to ensure a strong SOE?

Glyn Lewers

As a resident of Frankton and buddy councillor for Kelvin Peninsula Community Association, “I can tell you, there is a varying of opinion as we saw in front of us.” He has seen the effects of Covid airport closure on his helicopter pilot neighbour. Both KPCA and Frankton Community Association have written to Council before about the noise boundary expansion and both agree with the dual airport management approach, the need for more information and spatial plans. “I feel that this SOI allows us to do that, to reassess the strategic lay of the land.” The business community needs a functioning airport to help recovery. He was pleased to hear “directly from the mouths of directors of the airport” that they were not concerned about driving this airport down a demand driven line. They are cognisant about the community and completely aware of environmental constraints on ZQN.

Cr Lewers was then-chair and wrote the FCA submission expressing their members’ unanimous opposition to ANB expansion in 2018. He presented this, the KPCA submission presenting the same unanimous opposition and a 1500-strong petition to QAC management alongside the now-chair of We Love Wakatipu Inc. We Love Wakatipu Inc considers it disingenuous to insinuate that both community associations would be in support of this SOI, especially in a way that made him appear to be speaking on behalf of both associations. Current KPCA chair David Mayhew spoke during public forum and expressed their continued strong opposition to the SOI.  Cr Lewers, like the scenic flight company reps, conflated the risk of the proposed Tarras International Airport’s potential impact on ZQN with the SOI, which doesn’t even see this proposal as a threat. Cr Lewers is also a member of the SOI joint steering group.

Val Miller

Made no comment during the meeting, nor raised her hand to do so. However, once the media and public had left, she complained to her colleagues that some councillors had been going on, verging on sermons, depriving others of the ability to make comment.

Mayor Jim Boult said he did have this in mind and would send around standing orders to remind councillors of the rules. Standing orders limit speakers to 5 minutes max.  The video evidence shows no one spoke that long. And while he did suggest a couple of the councillors wind up, he did not say no one further could speak.

Jim Boult

His only comment on the subject was to second Cr Shaw’s amendment.  He is the fourth council representative on the joint QLDC/QAC’s statement of intent steering group. He is the only councillor to have voted every time in the past four years to agree to QAC’s SOI – each time, supporting continued growth to meet demand and the possibility of expanding air noise boundaries at Queenstown Airport.

Otago Daily Times, 12 November 2020

Three international airports within an hour’s drive of each other could be considered overkill for ensuring Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago Districts are accessible to residents and tourists.

Local group FlightPlan 2050 had been advocating QLDC buy land in Tarras for a replacement airport for ZQN prior to Christchurch International Airport Ltd stealing the strategic march on them earlier this year by buying five times the Frankton Airport land area for $45 million.

Compromise, competition, collaboration or will one or other airport Corp keel over?

LINK to article here

Otago Daily Times, 23 October 2020

Auckland Airport doesn’t expect an international aviation recovery for more than three years – beyond the horizon suggested by international airline and economic forecasters. But they’re hopeful domestic travel will return to normal within two years.  So, the “many years” forecast before pressure again mounts on Queenstown Airport’s air noise boundaries by those saying we should keep expansion in the SOI might be a bit of an overstatement.

LINK to article

29 October 2020

Good afternoon. I’m Cath Gilmour, chair of We Love Wakatipu.

Both Council and QAC lawyers told the High Court judge in late September that Council has “total control” over QAC through the statement of intent and its supermajority shareholding. 

This is a quantum shift in legal advice given to councillors by the mayor, council’s executive team and QAC to date, who have all stressed QAC’s purpose was profit and councillors’ role limited to tinkering on the edges.

I commend QAC’s acceptance of this on page 28, acknowledging its job is achieving shareholders’ objectives, as specified in the statement of intent.  This is indeed the law. Trouble is, you’ve not discussed, much less specified, these objectives. And QAC ignored the one you did specify in your statement of expectations, that they must operate within existing noise boundaries.

Agreeing to this SOI would be fundamentally wrong. Why?

  • You have not specified council’s strategic objectives within the SOI to define the parameters, scope and activities of QAC operations.
  • This SOI gives QAC permission to apply to expand the boundaries any time after June 30, 2023.
  • The SOI does not reflect any of the 236 pages of MartinJenkins socio-economic report except for GDP.
  • It totally ignores our community’s opposition to expansion, the threat to social licence through over-tourism and other causes of community angst.
  • It ignores the very real strategic risks that Tarras International Airport would pose for QAC operations and finances – and thus, for ratepayers.
  • It pays lip service to council’s climate emergency declaration.It still includes creating land and air footprints to facilitate future growth as a key objective.
  • Waffly, vague language in both objectives and performance targets gives no surety of desired results, or even the ability to measure them.

Promises to consult and work with Council’s spatial plan and Frankton masterplan are just lipstick on a pig.  Consultation has been ignored to date. Participants at community workshops for both plans were expressly told options that did not include airport expansion could not discussed, much less included, in either plan. So zero threat for QAC in making that commitment.

During the election, all of you but Mayor Boult and Cr Copland expressly opposed expanding the noise boundaries. You can achieve this by setting appropriate strategic objectives in the SOI. And by law, QAC must comply.

This is the fourth inadequate SOI we have had to fight in two years. We are as tired of it as you must be. There is a solution – councillors (not the joint steering group) setting strategic objectives to promote the four community well-beings, as is your legal responsibility.

We have already sent you some suggestions, but time limits me to paraphrasing just the first three:

  1. Queenstown Airport growth will be managed within existing air noise boundaries.
  2. Operations will be consistent with QLDC’s Climate Emergency Declaration.
  3. Operations will retain social licence for tourism and our community’s amenity values.

QAC director Michael Stiassny said, in direct response to my question on a recent webinar, that now is the time for Queenstown to work out the level of growth we want, but that he doubted we had the maturity to do so.

At the weekend, I ran into David Ovendale, who most of you will know as a long time Queenstown tourism promoter. He said he hoped Queenstown would take this Covid opportunity to work out how to constrain and manage tourism for the best outcomes for our community, environment, and local economy.

Neither man could be accused of being anti-tourism or antigrowth.  But they have seen the changes wrought on Queenstown Lakes by over-tourism.  They also have the foresight and capacity to understand that when the facts change, so should our approach. 

Otago Daily Times, 14 October 2020

It seems Christchurch International Airport executives are no longer talking about waiting for Queenstown Airport to run out of space before activating their Tarras plans, according to discussions last week. So perhaps it’s time for our Council and QAC to move from denial of the fact CIA stole the strategic march on them, with drastic implications for long-term QAC revenues.  They now need to work out how they can best safeguard Queenstown Lakes District’s future – in terms of both tourist numbers and use of this valuable land.

LINK to article