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…
We Love Wakatipu Inc commentary on QLDC meeting, 30 June 2021, on Queenstown Airport Corporation’s statement of intent (SOI)
To provide some accountability for election hustings promises, WLW has gone back through the video of the council meeting that considered QAC’s Statement of Intent. In this post, we summarise councillors’ votes, comments and questions. We have also summarised public forum speakers. You can read WLW’s submission here.
The quick answer is that yes, four did. Thank you, Councillors Quentin Smith, Niamh Shaw, Niki Gladding and Esther Whitehead.
All other councillors voted to agree to an SOI allowing QAC to continue planning expansion of Queenstown Airport’s air noise boundary – and to apply for consent any time after June 30, 2024. All but Cllr Copland (who, as sole Arrowtown candidate, was not publicly asked this question during the campaign) and mayor Boult had said on election hustings they opposed expansion.
Three councillors said not one word except for “aye”– Val Miller, Heath Copland and Ferg Ferguson. Calum MacLeod and Penny Clark asked questions of QAC, but also made no comment beyond “aye” once discussion on the vote began.
Gillian Macleod (WLW committee): urged councillors keep an open mind on the long-term future of ZQN. She suggested they aim for ‘tolerable tourism’ because ‘sustainable tourism’ was undefinable. Capping passenger numbers at Queenstown Airport would give certainty to both industry and community. As chair of council’s strategy committee in 2007, they pondered this same question and decided it was too hard and they couldn’t talk about it. “But when are we going to talk about it?”
Sally Stockdale (WLW vice-chair): the vast majority of councillors promised not to allow airport noise expansion, but everything seems predetermined. Perhaps because of the agenda – repeated errors could have affected the outcome of the vote, given a wrongful sense of urgency and limited options to choose from. What is the agenda behind the agenda? Options offered were not in the direction our community wants, or climate change demands. It’s business as usual – but not the business we want. You have been elected by the community to represent us and it is time to listen to us. Question your sources, especially those who have misguided you in the past.
John Hilhorst (FlightPlan 2050): ZQN offers the opportunity for creating an inspiring alpine campus – concentrating population, cutting urban sprawl and climate change gases, and offering the population density needed for a knowledge economy. QAC could become council’s multi-million-dollar property development company when Christchurch International Airport limited builds a new international airport at Tarras. Please instruct QAC to investigate this option.
Kirsty Sharpe (WLW supporter) – air noise boundary expansion is still on the agenda, albeit beyond this SOI’s term. Surely you can see its days are numbered on this site? Now is the time to say no to expansion.
Mayor Boult – he’s aware there has been some discussion and perhaps change suggested, so it would be best to move the motion, and decide where to go from there.
Corporate services GM Meaghan Miller: jumped in to suggest an amendment finally accepting WLW’s complaint they were still using the 2019 “providing cost-effective infrastructure” purpose for council, rather than promoting the four wellbeings and enabling democracy, as has been their purpose since then. However, she then continued on to say that the same arguments stood despite that substantial change in purpose… (See further comment on this issue at the end of this commentary.)
WLW explainer: the mayor’s reference above was to an amendment proposed by Cllrs Shaw and Smith to insist that both the strategic and master plan require community consultation and council sign off. It was stymied by QAC having followed instructions contained in council’s statement of expectation. This had been written by council CEO Mike Theelen and there were complaints that it did not fully reflect councillor concerns and input. Councillors did not get to see the final draft of the SOE letter before it appeared in the agenda and had been sent to QAC.
Cllr Shaw: asked QAC director Simon Flood if the SOI’s inclusion of changing the Constitution was a request from Council? He did not directly answer this, but did say the QAC board would consult Council before asking for their sign off. She then asked how grumpy QAC board would be if council changed its mind on requiring consultation and sign off on both the strategic and master plan?
Mayor Boult: jumped in and said Mr Flood could not answer the board as he was only representing himself (despite the fact he was there representing the board, standing orders having been put aside specifically so he could do so.)
QAC director Flood: the SOI was the result of a “long programme of active consultation,” especially with the joint steering group. The board’s job was “independent governance of the CCTO and we would like to do the job we were appointed to do.” They would, in good faith, consult with all stakeholders, including shareholders.
Cllr Gladding: the SOI was reviewed every year, creating community angst each year over the question of stopping ANB expansion. The SOI contains objectives that are not prioritised, some compete with or contradict each other, and it’s left to QAC to balance them. The strategic plan’s 10-year horizon gave hope this could be resolved, but she could not understand how this would occur without consultation or any public scrutiny. Is it feasible for the board to have an open strategic plan? There’s a lot to resolve “and we can do it collaboratively, or we can do it by fencing ourselves off and hiding what we plan to do.” Where is this resistance to public consultation – from the board?
Mayor Boult: again jumped in to say the QAC director could not answer this question on behalf of the board. And that there was no desire to keep it secret.
Mr Flood: We engage in good faith with everyone who has an opinion, though that may be through councillors as a conduit. “There are commercial sensitivities,” which need to be kept confidential, but this would be done on a good-faith basis. There was no intention of keeping it secret because “that is not how we operate”.
Cllr Clark: clarifies that the last time she had seen the SOI was before the Wanaka Airport lease was overturned (which happened April 20, more than two months prior). “I am interested in the nitty-gritty detail.” The airport is critical to this district’s survival. Concerned that figures in the graph on page 16 show passenger numbers dropping in 2023.
QAC CEO Colin Keel: clarifies that Cllr Clark is looking at the wrong graph and that numbers increase annually, as expected.
Cllr Clark: “Sorry, Mr Mayor, I think I have got myself a bit confused, but I am ready to move.”
WLW explainer: that is, Cllr Clark is prepared to move the motion to agree to the SOI, despite her confusion. In previous years, she has requested that the SOI be reduced to a 2-3 page summary, as there was too much detail and it was too long.
Cllr MacLeod: we need the dividend and despite 2023 passenger forecast been very similar to 2018 numbers, we’re not expecting the same level of dividend. To Mr Keel; “Come on, boy, you can do better.”
Cllr Whitehead: looking with fresh eyes as a new councillor and former teacher, “I would give it an E grading, it lacks any robustness whatsoever”. Its “really wishy-washy statements” don’t allow us to engage in any form of metrics. Asked for “a concerted effort” in the next SOI to allow measuring of objectives.
Meaghan Miller: if councillors agree, they can start talking about this during the informal process prior to and including formulation of the statement of expectations.
WLW commentary: in which councillors are meant to outline what they expect QAC to achieve through its SOI. For the last several years, this has been written by CEO Mike Theelen, amid complaints from several councillors that their input was ignored or minimised.
Standing orders are reinstated and QAC representatives leave the table. Mayor Boult turns to Cllr Clark and straight to the point, asks if she is going to move the motion. Cllr Clark is “very happy” to do so and he then seconds it. Which allows discussion on the resolution to agree to the SOI to start…
Cllr Smith: the SOI has been “an ongoing piece of trouble,” going back and forward between QAC and council before agreeing to various iterations over the past three years. It has become easier to read and more concise and he is grateful for the work of the joint steering group, of which he is a member. The overturning of the Wanaka Airport lease has to a great extent resolved Upper Clutha’s problems with the SOI. The one problem he has is strategic direction. The last couple of years, councillors have had to look at the SOI for QAC plans. The master plan remains the thing we need to look at to guide us where we are heading. Both the strategy plan and master plan need to be signed off by council, which is not agreed to in this SOI and therefore he cannot agree to it.
Cllr Gladding: her view the same as Cllr Smith’s. Councillors can’t do their job under The Local Government Act unless both master and strategic plans are consulted on with the public and ultimately signed off by councillors.
Cllr Glyn Lewers: also a member of the joint steering group, he spoke to the four areas of improvement required in the Office of the Auditor General’s report on QLDC governance of QAC. The “inadequate communication” has been improved. The lack of strategic alignment between QAC and QLDC is “a work in progress,” but the Spatial Plan “will certainly set the direction of where the airport will be able to move or not be able to move” over the next two years. QAC’s failure to appreciate the accountability et cetera of QLDC to its community was another “work in progress,” because council is in a different space than the board. On the issue of QLDC failing to respect confidentiality of information provided by QAC and allowing it to operate at arm’s-length, “I think we’ve got work to do on this. I’m happy to discuss the length of the arm, but some councillors seem to think there shouldn’t be an arm at all.”
Cllr Shaw: the amendment she and Cllr Smith had proposed related to council process, as shown to be lacking in the Judicial Review that found the Wanaka Airport lease to be illegal and based on inadequate consultation. So it’s reasonable to assume that council’s approach to consultation and document sign off may have changed since then. She would prefer not to invoke schedule 8, part one, clause 6 of the Local Government Act (through which they can compel QAC to include/exclude matters from the SOI) at this stage. It has been indicated that open dialogue on process and consultation for the strategic and master plans could be facilitated between councillors and QAC. Can this happen in the next month?
QLDC CEO Mike Theelen: no, doesn’t think so. Up to councillors to make that decision, through the workshop programme or any other way, its schedule is pretty well set, “but we can undertake it if that’s the will of council”.
Mayor Boult: said he would find a way to make that happen and was happy for this to be recorded in the minutes. He aligned himself with Cllr Lewers. They have given the board the job of running the airport for council and appointed five of the six directors, whom they can change if they want to.
He called for the vote on the resolution to agree to Queenstown Airport Corporation’s statement of intent. An ‘aye’ meant okaying future air noise expansion (just not before June 30, 2024) and forgoing the right for community consultation and councillor sign off of the vitally important, currently opaque, QAC master plan and 10-year strategic plan.
Ayes: Mayor Boult and Cllrs Clark, Copland, Ferguson, Lewers, MacLeod and Miller.
Against: Cllrs Gladding, Shaw, Smith and Whitehead.
What does this mean when you consider who to vote for in the 2022 election? That only four councillors – Niki Gladding, Niamh Shaw, Quentin Smith and Esther Whitehead – stood by their election promises to oppose the expansion of Queenstown Airport’s air noise boundaries. Three didn’t even expend the mental energy to come up with a comment on or question of the council executive team’s false narrative, and instead voted ‘aye’ with nary a whisper of explanation – Cllrs Miller, Ferguson and Copland. Cr Lewers had thought about it and pointed to some potential hope for movement, but not this term. Mayor Boult and Cllrs MacLeod and Clark were true to form, cheerleading the QAC line and voting that way, against everything the community has told them the past three years.
Ironically, it was QAC CEO Colin Keel’s last day on the job. Mayor Boult thanked him, saying he had handled some difficult situations extremely well. He also felt that Mr Keel had been unfairly singled out for some unwarranted criticism over the past five years.
You can read our official complaint about the repeated mistruths contained in the executive team’s SOI agenda item here and a second official complaint by a WLW supporter here. In summary, the agenda item outlined incorrect purpose and role for councillors and wrongly told them they must agree for QAC to be legally compliant. These provided false imperatives and compulsion to agree to the SOI, as has been pointed out by WLW and others for the past three years.
WLW has also pointed out to councillors and governance entities that we believe Mayor Boult to be conflicted when voting to expand Queenstown Airport passenger capacity, as he consistently has. He is also the chair of the South Island’s biggest tourism company, Wayfare Group, with its significant business interests in Queenstown and Wanaka dependent on high tourist numbers (Cardrona and Treble Cone ski fields and Real Journeys among them). He and his fellow councillors (well, the majority of them) deny this charge.
There are three planks of “conflict of interest”: pecuniary interest, having an interest greater than a general member of the public and that the public perceives this to be so. We agree there is no direct pecuniary interest, infractions of which are adjudicated by the Office of the Auditor-General. But the mayor’s chairmanship of Wayfare does create an interest in airport growth greater than Jo Public and the public certainly perceives this to be so. These types of conflict fall outside the purview of the Auditor-General and can only be challenged at great expense through civil courts. This makes the issues of opaque and wrong process, inadequate consultation and misleading and untrue agenda items even more serious when council’s job is to enable democracy and promote community wellbeings.
We Love Wakatipu Inc commentary, 1 September 2021
Below is We Love Wakatipu Inc’s analysis of the final 2021 Spatial Plan. Synopsis – a considerable improvement on the draft, with room for real community input and council control of the airport, not vice versa, once the council leadership team changes.
Wording changes to the Spatial Plan made in response to public submissions appear to recognise that the continued airport growth in the middle of Wakatipu’s most usable land is not the wisest long-term spatial strategy.
And to offer the opportunity to change that paradigm and the resultant use of this limited and valuable land under future reviews. If you want to know more detail, put your feet up and read our analysis below.
Our analysis of the Spatial Plan
The first Queenstown Lakes Spatial Plan was finalised last month and adopted by Council. It is the product of collaboration between our council, Ngai Tahu and the government. Its purpose is “strategically visioning the best outcomes for our communities based on projected growth”.
More on that later. We will first concentrate on the plan as it specifically relates to ZQN.
The district’s airports and growth in general with the two top submission themes, unsurprisingly.
QLDC’s agenda report from July 29 said they heard “various views about the future of the Queenstown airport.” It was notable, however, that none of the comments suggested support for current expansion plans. Instead, submitters were concerned the airport had been taken as a “given” within the plan, that the Tarras Airport scenario should be included, asked that the plan state the airport could not expand and that it might be shifted to enable all Frankton Flats to be developed.
The hearing panel, however, said the Spatial Plan “cannot and should not direct how the airports in the district are to be operated.”
Fair enough. But it could have been a whole lot more specific as to the spatial implications of continuation, expansion or removal of airport operations.
But on the other hand, the panel did tweak the Spatial Plan’s wording to show that there were such implications, which had not been a feature of the first iteration – as We Love Wakatipu and other groups and individuals pointed out in our submissions.
We appreciate that we were heard and, within the bounds of what was probably achievable under the current council leadership team, changes were made.
The July 29 agenda also stated that the panel agreed that the plan “should be clear about the strategic importance of Frankton, the Five Mile corridor and the Queenstown-Frankton corridor for accommodating future growth in the Wakatipu Basin. The plan should be more explicit about the key trade-offs between growth in these locations and airport operations. That is, the Spatial Plan should set out the longer-term urban contexts that QAC would need to work within.”
Okay, so it didn’t actually get explicit about what these key trade-offs were or set out the longer-term urban contexts for QAC, as elaborated further on. Hopefully that will happen to the next review - and meanwhile, give a swerve to QAC.
And further, “while the Spatial Plan for Wakatipu Basin proposes extensions to the south and east, these corridors meet at Frankton where substantial intensification on land not currently encumbered by airport noise controls is clearly beneficial to long-term aspirations for a compact, connected urban form.”
That sounds like a pretty strong indication that ZQN’s Air Noise Boundaries (ANB) should not be expanded. Well done, panel. Will councillors take heed?
The panel’s report continues: “We do not see the need at this stage to develop a ‘without airport’ scenario. An airport icon could be added to the maps to reflect current use, while noting that any moves to decrease use of the airport (or shift it in the long-term) can be addressed in reviews of the plan, but that is not an outcome that the plan advocates for in the short to medium term.”
The panel report also said it had revised the spatial element section to be more explicit about the trade-off being made between urban growth and future expansion of ANB’s.
We couldn’t see this, as elaborated below.
Moving specifically to the Spatial Plan, some highlights/lowlights for detail-lovers follow:
Page 38: “The current air noise boundary and national electricity grid transmission corridor restrict some development outcomes in parts of Frankton and the Frankton to Queenstown corridor.”
So much for explicit trade-offs! Like not mentioning QAC succeeding at every resource management decision-making forum for years in preventing any ASANs (activities sensitive to air noise, such as building affordable homes or worker accommodation) on much of this land. And ensuring non-complaints covenants on all nearby developments. And the shape of the crazy Urban Canyon (it ain’t a corridor) along 5 Mile - snaking along the outer perimeter of the current ANB.
Page 42, Challenges and Opportunities: highlighted the need for diversification considering our tourism dependence (63% of jobs and 55% of GDP pre-Covid) and affordable housing. Mentions Queenstown’s role as a domestic and international tourism gateway compounds these and congestion, emissions, and safety issues.
Page 44: “Air conductivity is a key component of the transport system and vital to the economic and social well-being of Queenstown Lakes.”
Well, actually, there are big question marks over the social well-being side of this statement, as they would know from MartinJenkins report, the Quality-Of-Life surveys they later quote and three years of consistent community opposition to yet more connectivity being proposed by QAC.
And further on: “Future development constraints and opportunities at both Queenstown and Wanaka airport need to be carefully managed to maintain strong connectivity while protecting the local environments they operate in. Recent proposals to investigate a new airport at Tarras… highlight the ongoing confidence that the wider aviation industry has maintaining and growing capacity and services across the region.”
Notable for not mentioning QAC’s proposal to expand Queenstown Airport’s ANB. Nor the MartinJenkins report re-loss of social licence, over-tourism and community opposition. Interesting they say “recent proposals” – there is just one, from Christchurch International Airport Ltd, and by spending $45 million on five times as much land as ZQN has, it has moved a bit beyond a “proposal”. And a bit weird pitching it as a statement of aviation industry confidence - it’s a council CCTO proposal, not the aviation industry’s. And more relevantly for our 30-year Spatial Plan, it is a major opportunity for Wakatipu Basin.
Changing climate …..
No mention was made within this section of the impact of future policies to mitigate this on global long-haul travel and therefore, our tourism industry.
Community cohesion: the report acknowledges that rapid growth has put pressure on social infrastructure and facilities “in some neighbourhoods”, and that the Mood of The Nation and Quality of Life surveys demonstrate QLD residents feel under pressure from visitors. “Here the tourism industry is aware that the hospitality and manaakitaka of residents is an essential component of visitor experience. In the context of the Covid 19 pandemic, the community is in the process of redefining this relationship.”
Really? How and where and with whom? No acknowledgement in this section that over-tourism had compromised social licence prior to Covid and that no amount of supposed redefinition of this relationship would overcome this issue long-term.
Page 58-59, Spatial Elements, Wakatipu: “Frankton is of strategic importance to achieving the consolidated approach to growth. This is due to its significant development potential and access from the frequent public transport network. Queenstown Airport is the largest single land use in the Frankton metropolitan area and is a key entry point to the region and to New Zealand. It is a strategic asset. It is desirable for land uses in Frankton to be maximised, requiring careful management of the interface between airport operations and the communities of Frankton who are impacted by its operation.”
The panel’s report said the Spatial Plan should be more explicit about trade-offs being made between urban growth and future expansion of airport noise boundaries. No mention of proposed expansion or its multiple ramifications. No mention of the possible removal of the airport. No mention of the huge impacts of the existing ANB on use (activities allowed and density thereof) of the West – East corridor or broader Frankton Flats. Nor the potential of housing some 10,000 or more people on a rezoned ZQN. If that’s their “explicit,” I’d hate to see their “vague”!
Page 66, Strategy 1, increased density in appropriate locations …
No mention is made of the fact that three of Wakatipu’s four priority development areas have activities and densities severely constrained by the current airport ANB. And this would be even more so if it were expanded.
Ladies Mile is described as “a new transit-oriented neighbourhood offering new housing choices.”
We are guessing that the descriptor “transit-oriented” is code for “residents stuck in their cars to get anywhere and back,” unless modal shift really does work. And any “new housing choice” will likely require legislative enforcement, as developers prefer more lucrative low-density development to affordable/medium density housing.
Page 72, major infrastructure projects relating to the East-West Corridor, Five Mile and Ladies Mile.
Good to see that most of these major infrastructure projects are scheduled to occur beyond the next 10 years and subject to further investigation. By then, we should know whether Tarras International Airport takes off and if so, more sensible options for Frankton development could go ahead under a later iteration of this Spatial Plan.
Page 78, except that priority initiatives to be advanced by the partnership’s joint work programme include unlocking these same development areas…
Page 87, lovely touch that someone put Tarras on the Queenstown Lakes transport route map - certainly a much shorter subregional public transport vision than Queenstown to Wanaka!
Page 90-92, outcome three: a sustainable tourism system: “The rapid increase in visitors has stretched infrastructure networks and is putting pressure on the environment and the community. Better coordination is needed to ensure visitors tread lightly and are a welcome contributor to the social, economic, cultural and environmental story of the Queenstown Lakes.”
Better coordination of tourists is not going to overcome community hostility and loss of social licence once over-tourism returns. No matter how well coordinated, we will still trip over them. Similarly, the mooted Destination Management Strategy won’t help if the overall objective remains tourism growth. Only one of the 14 areas such a strategy would cover relates to community and “representative community participation” does not mean the same as “effective community representation”.
Page 94, Strategy 10: promote a car-free destination: Envisages public transport connections between Queenstown, Wanaka and Cromwell. “This would provide options for residents and visitors to travel conveniently around Queenstown Lakes without needing a car and has the potential to link to new airport services in the future.”
Another wee spark of possible openness going forward, even if Tarras isn’t included as a possible link on the map this time.
Page 99, outcome four: well-designed neighbourhoods that provide for everyday needs: “Increasing densities and the redevelopment of sites can often make it difficult for social infrastructure to be provided retrospectively. This highlights the need for areas to be planned in their entirety to ensure the everyday needs of the community are met locally.”
This is not We Love Wakatipu’s argument, but surely FlightPlan 2050’s proposal for a well-planned, dense, connected mixed use urban development on current ZQN land, which already has much of this infrastructure, should at least be considered within an open, objective 30-year Spatial Plan “envisioning the best outcomes for our communities”?
Page 105-106, outcome five: a diverse economy where everyone can thrive: “A more diversified economy will insure against such significant shocks, supporting the tourism industry to continue to deliver an exceptional visitor experience whilst protecting the well-being of local communities.”
Really? Should the success of our diversified economy be measured by the level of support it gives the tourism industry to continue? And why not aim to have this diversification contribute to our community’s well-being - not just protect us against negative impacts of over-tourism?
Page 105, the first two Spatial Plan priority initiatives are:
- Review zoning and other levers to enable higher densities and more flexible use of land within the existing and new urban areas in appropriate locations identified in the Spatial Plan.
- Use the Grow Well/Whaiora Urban Growth Partnership to improve alignment and coordination to unlock joint priority development areas including Ladies Mile, 5 Mile Urban Corridor, Queenstown Town Centre to Frankton Corridor…
Experience shows us time and time again that QAC will abort any attempt to allow ASANs (activities sensitive to air noise) or high density within the ANB and beyond, to prevent any possibility of reverse sensitivity crimping their style. Existing Ladies Miles subdivisions already have no complaints covenants on property titles, per favour of QAC. The full potential of these joint priority development areas cannot be “unlocked” with the airport in situ or ANB expanded, because activities and densities would remain extremely constrained.
Spatial Plan Details
This first Queenstown Lakes Spatial Plan will be reviewed in two more years. It sits atop the planning hierarchy, providing long-term strategic direction that guides the District Plan, 10 Year Plan, 30 Year Infrastructure Strategy, Climate Action Plan and all the more detailed, lower-level strategies and plans that feed into them. It will be reviewed by 2023, to feed into the council’s next 10 Year Plan. After that, it will be reviewed every three years.
It was required by government because of Queenstown being, pre-pandemic, one of New Zealand’s fastest-growing districts. It will drive a joint work programme between the three entities who took part in formulating the Spatial Plan – government, QLDC and Ngai Tahu. The primary government entities involved were Waka Kotahi, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and Ministry of Housing.
The Plan’s three principles are:
- Well-being: decisions about growth recognise social, economic, environmental and cultural considerations.
- Resilience: ensuring communities and visitors are resilient to shocks of the future, including adapting to climate change.
- Sustainability: programmes and activities are delivered according to sustainable development principles and work toward zero emissions.
And the five outcomes:
- Consolidated growth and more housing choice.
- Public transport, walking and cycling is the preferred option for daily travel.
- A sustainable tourism system.
- Well-designed neighbourhoods that provide for everyday needs.
- A diverse economy where everyone can thrive.
They say the devil is in the detail. You can read all 116 pages of it on this link!
We Love Wakatipu Inc commentary, 25 August 2021
Here is Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s response to We Love Wakatipu Inc’s request for a Ministerial Review of council’s governance of QAC.
We sent the request after three years of pointing out fundamental mistruths, poor process and council leadership, and most councillors ignoring community consultation and well-being.
WLW believes this, the repeated complaints by individuals and community groups to Council and governance entities about QLDC’s poor governance, and the High Court overturning their lease of Wanaka Airport to QAC because of illegal process and improper consultation cumulatively meet the high threshold required. We also acknowledge that the Local Government Ministry’s huge current workload of law reform probably means this threshold is even higher than usual.
We Love Wakatipu Inc supporter John Hilhorst’s letter, 19 July, 2021
Another call has been made for government scrutiny of council leadership’s subversion of councillors’ authority to control QAC’s objectives and the nature and scope of its activities.
WLW supporter John Hilhorst has written today to the Ombudsman and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta, asking them to review the continued undermining of the Local Government Act, democracy and councillors’ roles and responsibilities.
As he says, “the district is at a crossroads and the decisions made in the next few years will lock in an infrastructural framework for generations, with far-reaching effects.”
See his Official Complaint addressed to Council CEO Mike Theelen below.
We Love Wakatipu Inc commentary, 13 July, 2021
We Love Wakatipu Inc has asked Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta to review our council’s governance of Queenstown Airport Corporation. This comes after three years of pointing out fundamental mistruths in executive team agenda items and resultant flaws in Council’s decision-making process that subvert democracy and community well-being – QLDC’s two legally mandated purposes.
We appended to our letter our official letter of complaint to council CEO Mike Theelen and consequent email communications with our councillors. Plus the email sent to councillors to remind them that legally – quoting senior counsel for both QLDC and QAC speaking in High Court last November – they have “total control” of QAC through the statement of intent.
Unfortunately, to date, they have not been willing to use this to do what nine of the 11 promised on the election hustings – to oppose the expansion of Queenstown Airport’s air noise boundaries.
July 13, 2021.
Kia ora Minister,
I write regarding an official complaint I made recently about Queenstown Lakes District Council’s continued misleading statements as to the purpose of local government in agenda items regarding Queenstown Airport Corporation’s statement of intent (SOI). I request a ministerial review of the council’s poor governance of its CCTO, which subverts the legislation’s intent, community well-being and our rights to democratic decision-making and actions.
Appended you will find my complaint and the responses of council CEO Mike Theelen and two councillors.
You will note that Mr Theelen acknowledged this mistake this year (a first) but responded that this did not really matter because the argument still stood. In his mind, it seems, the purpose of providing cost-effective infrastructure (to meet airline demands) translates directly into promoting well-being and enabling democracy.
An official complaint has also separately been made about Mr Theelen’s repeated claim that the council must agree to the SOI for QAC to be compliant. This is also untrue – QAC is compliant as long as the SOI is delivered by June 30. Which it was.
These two false claims (and others, but these are the two most egregious) have been repeated in Mr Theelen’s SOI agenda items since the change in purpose under the Local Government Act in May 2019, despite this being pointed out each time by myself and others.
Together, these two mistruths enable the executive team to falsely tell councillors they must agree under pressure to the SOI (the council meeting is held 1 to 2 days prior to the supposed July 1 deadline) and that growth of dividend, shareholders’ value and capacity to meet airline demand are the purposes they must meet.
None of these purposes is a mandated purpose of QLDC, nor of the CCTO it purportedly controls, under the LGA or any other legislation.
This false narrative encourages councillors to ignore their two actual purposes under the LGA. Democracy is not enabled nor well-being promoted by the statements of intent thus passed. The air noise boundary (ANB) expansion that each SOI has enabled planning of has been strongly and consistently opposed by the community since it was mooted in 2018. This has been ignored by our elected representatives each time, despite election season promises to the contrary.
I also append an email sent to councillors late last year, in the wake of arguments given by both their and QAC legal counsel to the High Court judge (who subsequently overturned QLDC’s illegal lease of Wanaka Airport to QAC) that the council has “total control” over QAC through its SOI. This LGA mandate has been denied both in agenda items and verbally by Mayor Jim Boult and his executive team for the past three years and was again given no credence this year.
Briefly, other incursions of the proper process with regard to QLDC governance of QAC include:
- Prior to the 2019 mayoral election, four Chamber of Commerce members warned Mr Boult he would lose the election unless he responded to the community’s opposition to the expansion of Queenstown Airport’s ANB. At the start of the council meeting several days later, he unilaterally announced council would commission an independent socio-economic impact report of different airport growth scenarios. Councillors were informed of this announcement by email the night before; no opportunity for input was given. He assured the voting public that councillors’ decisions would be guided post-election by the report’s findings.
- However, full council has never discussed the resultant MartinJenkins report nor agreed on how their decisions should reflect it. Nor have SOI agenda items.
- The report itself was fundamentally flawed. Many of these flaws seemed designed to skew the results in favour of ANB expansion. These included the banning of discussion about potential closure of ZQN in favour of a new airport elsewhere and alternate urban use of this land, or the opportunity cost of not doing so.
- Despite these flaws, the MartinJenkins report repeated the strong public feedback of the initial 2018 QAC consultation, in which 92.5% of over 1500 responses opposed ANB expansion. Despite not being allowed to discuss potential benefits of a Tarrras area airport freeing up Queenstown Airport land, a third international airport in this location was the preferred option.
- Bullying and silencing of councillors who dare to question or speak up against the leadership team’s narrative about the need for untrammelled airport growth and dismissal of community concerns about the downstream ramifications of this. (E.G. the executive team tells councillors 92.5% opposition is just 3% of the population.)
- Over the past three years, there has not been one meeting or workshop of councillors to discuss and agree on the strategic objectives QAC, a council-controlled trading organisation, must achieve through their statement of intent. Meeting such objectives – both financial and non-financial – is the purpose of a CCTO under the LGA.
- The Wanaka Airport lease to QAC was overturned as illegal by High Court judge Gerard van Bohemen because of poor process and inadequate consultation. Defending council’s actions in court cost ratepayers over $300,000. The case was taken by Wanaka Stakeholders Group, at their own cost.
- This lease was unanimously signed off by councillors last term, despite the fact only the negotiating team of the mayor, two councillors and CEO had seen it. This lease included passing responsibility and cost for moving Project Pure, Council’s sewage treatment scheme, to Council should QAC want to expand the airport over this land. When this raised controversy, council quietly moved it to the 10-year plan as a council project to future-proof the airport, despite questions over its necessity now.
- A joint QAC/QLDC steering group was formed last year to guide and supposedly better inform the SOI process. The resultant effect was that councillors outside this small group lost visibility of the process and had little input to SOI’s over the past two years.
- This steering group did not even meet after the High Court overturned the Wanaka Airport lease. This obviously had a significant impact on the SOI, previously based on QAC’s “dual airport” strategy, as Wanaka airport is no longer their asset to control.
- This year’s Statement of Expectation for the SOI was written by CEO Mike Theelen, with no sign off by councillors, who were not unanimous in their acceptance of it.
- Under the new SOI, QAC’s strategic 10-year plan will be guided by the Spatial Plan and Frankton master plan. Again, discussion of any alternative use of the airport land was forbidden during the community consultation phase of these plans. Both plans were explicitly based on the fundamental premise of continued and expanded use of Wakatipu’s flattest, largest, most geotechnically stable and developable block of land by New Zealand’s most dangerous airport, in the middle of a hostile community.
- This new SOI has also largely locked councillors out of both the strategic plan and QAC master plan. Both will be developed behind boardroom doors, out of visibility of both council and community. This retracts the council sign off of the masterplan won during the last SOI process. (I append relevant High Court judge comments.)
- This year’s SOI also gave QAC freedom to rewrite their own constitution, with no defined process and no guaranteed council input or strategic direction. The last time the Constitution was rewritten was in the wake of QAC secretly selling 24.99% of ZQN to Auckland International Airport, a fact they announced to councillors (apart from the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and CEO, who knew but had been sworn to secrecy) one hour prior to their public announcement. The 2012 constitution rewrite was done at the behest of and by Council in response.
- Christchurch International Airport Limited’s Tarras proposal was used to justify greater secrecy through the SOI in the name of commercial sensitivity – including many of the moves above.
- Rather than look at possible opportunities for collaboration, more efficient airport infrastructure network, climate change mitigation and use of the ZQN land that might benefit both profit and community well-being, QLDC has agreed to an SOI that looks at this proposal only from the perspective of commercial risk.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it hopefully gives a flavour of the council’s blinkered, improper and inadequate approach to QAC governance.
The repeated and ongoing misstatements in the SOI agenda items suggest incompetence and/or a deliberate attempt to corral councillors into a pro-growth SOI, against the consistent and strong opposition of the community, whose well-being is their mandated responsibility.
How does this happen? Because there is a largely compliant core of councillors led by a dominant and conflicted mayor, who silences, dismisses and puts down councillors and community members who dare to question or dissent.
Mr Boult was CEO of Christchurch International Airport Limited for six years and chair or acting chair for five years, earning just under $3 million in these roles. So you can understand that most councillors might believe they can trust his authoritative statements on airport matters and legislation. Wrongly so.
It is notable that the mayor of QLDC is also chair of the South Island’s largest tourism company, Wayfare Group. When challenged that this was a conflict-of-interest on votes that would either enable or rein in airport growth, a councillor subcommittee decided it was not because his chairmanship fee was only a small part of his income.
However, they did not address the other two planks of conflict of interest – whether a person has an interest greater than a general member of the public in the outcome of a decision, and whether the public would perceive this to be so. On both these counts, Mayor Boult is strongly conflicted. He is the dominant voice in continuing to allow QAC to plan for ANB expansion through the SOI. And he always supports the mistruths described above.
I raised this conflict-of-interest issue in public forum at a 2019 council meeting. Within half an hour, while the meeting was still ongoing, the council’s PR man had put out a press release denying any such conflict existed. He described the absence of Mr Boult’s Wayfare Group chairmanship on the council’s registry of interests as an administrative slipup.
Mr Boult made the same “administrative slip up” in an interview with Newsroom’s David Williams just prior to the last election. When asked directly about the conflict-of-interest his chairmanship of Real Journeys presented, he said he had resigned from that position. He omitted to mention he was appointed chair of the holding company that includes Real Journeys, Go Orange, Treble Cone, Cardrona and other tourism businesses that same day.
On the basis of the above factors, I urge you to please undertake a ministerial review of QLDC’s governance of Queenstown Airport Corporation. Their practices subvert both the intent of the LGA and the interests of the community, in favour of big tourism business.
You will also no doubt know that Christchurch International Airport Ltd has bought land in Tarras for a new international airport. We are now confronted with the prospect of three international airports within 75 km of each other – with decisions being made by two siloed CCTO’s with no overall strategic framework in terms of climate change mitigation, cost/carbon efficient nationwide air travel network, best use of valuable land or social licence for tourism.
I have also submitted to the Infrastructure Commission suggesting that there should be nationwide coordination of transport infrastructure, and particularly airports, along the lines of Waka Kotahi/NZTA, to better meet the challenges mentioned above. I urge you to support this. Tauranga and Kapiti airports are other examples of this need.
The issues I have raised above clearly show that wise decisions on New Zealand’s airport infrastructure network are beyond the capacity, capability and vision of councillors acting in competitive silos. Nor do they have responsibility, accountability or knowledge for ensuring the most efficient, cost-effective and climate change minimising nationwide network.
In terms of my background, I have been a journalist and community advocate covering issues and politics in Queenstown since 1995. I was a QLDC councillor for nine years, until stepping down four years ago, and an independent RMA Commissioner.
I am chair of We Love Wakatipu Inc, formed to support the community’s fight against the expansion of Queenstown Airport’s air noise boundary, and Catalyst Trust, a group set up to bring informed community debate of public issues and mental stimulation to the Wakatipu. For more depth on the issues described above, please visit the Protect Queenstown/We Love Wakatipu Inc website (see especially ‘latest news’ column) and Facebook pages. Or feel free to contact me directly.
Ngā mihi nui
(Appendix 1 on next page)
From the High Court judgement of Judge Gerard van Bohemen, in the Wanaka Stakeholders Group case against QLDC on the illegal lease of Wanaka Airport to QAC
(229) It is clear from the purpose and the provisions of the LGA that major decisions taken by a local authority with respect to its strategic assets must be taken only after a process in which the community has been consulted openly and transparently in accordance with the LGA. QLDC has failed to meet that essential requirement. If the lease is not set aside, the public’s ability to have a say in the future use of the airport over the next 100 plus years will be limited.
(230) While QAC has said it would consult the public as part of the master planning process, it is clear from Mr Keel’s description of that process that the public consultation envisaged is an opportunity to provide feedback on the draft master plan, after the technical work and consideration of options have been completed and a draft masterplan, including preferred options, has been prepared. While it is understandable that QAC would want to consult at the point that it has developed its preferred options, it is also likely that the scope for influencing the proposed decision will be limited, given the investment of time and money that will have already been made in developing the preferred options. Such a consultation will also be at QAC’s discretion and outside of the LGA’s process. I do not consider that to be an appropriate result following a failure by QLDC to comply with the LGA.
By Cath Gilmour, We Love Wakatipu Inc chair
Kia ora councillors and thank you for all your work.
You know now that contrary to information in today’s agenda, you do not need to agree to this SOI for QAC to be legally compliant. It already is, whether you agree to it, table it or reject it.
And again, contrary to the information in your agenda for the past three years, the purpose of local government is to enable democratic action and promote the four community well-beings – not provide cost-efficient infrastructure.
In other words, today’s report recommends you agree to an SOI justified by a totally different purpose to why you were elected to sit around this table.
Mr Theelen, in his response to my official complaint about the false information in today’s agenda, told me that that is okay, this analysis still stands true.
This beggars belief. Council’s actual purposes are not even mentioned. Much less analysed.
I acknowledge that this SOI is better written than previous ones. It even gives a nod to local government’s actual purposes – which, as a council-controlled trading organisation, QAC is meant to achieve.
But at its core, the SOI wrongfully gives your governance role to QAC.
It justifies doing so by a narrative that morphs community well-being into meeting airline demand and creating long-term value for shareholders, business partners and, last in line, communities.
This false narrative has been perpetuated by three years of hands-off, growth-focussed governance, justified by targeting the fundamentally wrong purpose.
I will concentrate on the components of this SOI most damaging to both our democracy and our wellbeing:
- Continued insistence on potential growth of the air noise boundary. The SOI only commits to not doing so until July 1, 2022 – or perhaps 2025.
- QAC’s 10-year strategic plan being written by QAC, with no guaranteed council strategic input and just “having regard for feedback” from shareholders. This is legalese for “feel free to ignore”. There is zero community input or visibility – ever.
- The loss of council sign-off on airport master planning. Seeking council endorsement and having regard to feedback again is licence to ignore. Community consultation won’t take place until after this plan is produced. Consultation works when it helps design the ship, not tries to turn around the juggernaut once launched.
- This same simile applies to QAC rewriting its constitution – with no process identified or council strategic input. You, as our elected representatives, must have more real input than final sign off.
Remember both your and QAC lawyers told the High Court that council had “total control” over QAC through the SOI. The judge still overturned council’s illegal Wanaka airport lease – because of poor process and inadequate consultation.
It’s time to stop the resultant downward spiral in community trust and claim back governance control.
This is your role – not the executive team’s and not the QAC board’s.
Please, reject the SOI, make the necessary changes and stop the erosion of our communities’ well-being and democracy.
John Hilhorst letter, WLW commentary, 29th June, 2021
Today, QLDC was sent a second official complaint about continued untrue statements in the agenda item for tomorrow’s council meeting decision on Queenstown Airport Corporation’s statement of intent.
In what again appears a deliberate attempt to subvert the purpose of the legislation, and our community’s democratic rights, Councillors have been told that they must agree to the SOI to enable QAC to be compliant.
This is not true. QAC is compliant by delivering its final SOI by deadline. It did so.
Perpetuating this myth puts pressure on councillors to agree to an SOI that gives power, wielded invisibly, to QAC.
We Love Wakatipu Inc commentary, 27 June 2021
After three years of pointing out the QLDC executive team’s repeated misleading statements of councillors’ role and responsibility under the Local Government Act with regard to QAC’s vital statement of intent, WLW has finally made an official complaint.
This has been the most egregious of repeated false statements in executive team agenda items on the SOI, which have together allowed them to keep pushing QAC’s narrative that it must push for continued growth, meet airline demand and provide a shareholder dividend.
None of which is true. We look forward to Council’s response. And a more honest discussion at Wednesday’s council meeting.
DQ “Special Remarks” email to members, 25 June 2021
It will be interesting to see how much of a say the community has in this regenerative tourism plan – with DQ, Lake Wanaka Tourism and QLDC in charge of the process. Community does get mentioned, but peripherally.
LINK HERE to the newsletter.