QLDC pays airport consultants $424,741 - so far
- by Peter Newport :
- Jun 14,2020
Main Image: Doug Martin - Founder of the Martin Jenkins consultancy.
Crux and other community groups have been trying to uncover the facts behind the crucial airport expansion study due to be released next week - including the cost of the work to the ratepayer. Now, QLDC has revealed some of the answers as a side effect of a wider official information request by Crux.
It has taken the best part of four years using official information legislation to get QLDC to reveal how much they pay to contractors, suppliers and consultants - we now know that total is $450,604,628 since July the 1st, 2017. That is four hundred and fifty million dollars in less than three and a half years.
The consultants carrying out the all important airport expansion impact report, Martin Jenkins, have refused to answer any questions from Crux about their work and QLDC has refused to answer any questions about the cost so far - saying they will do so after the work has been released to the public. We expect this to happen next week. This is in spite of the high level of public interest and the fact that the work is 100% funded by the ratepayer. Public funds.
The airport expansion study is widely seen as the key indicator of how much community support there is for continued tourism growth in the district. Of course Covid-19 has made much of that discussion academic, although the study is still likely to be used by QLDC in determining future policy and planning decisions. Last years's local election featured airport expansion as the key local issue with the Martin Jenkins exercise being used by Mayor Jim Boult to delay an airport decision or firm position until after the local elections. Mayor Boult was voted in for a second term - although Wanaka voters did not give him a majority vote, largely due to airport expansion opposition.
A lot of scrutiny, so far unanswered, has centred on a potential conflict in that Martin Jenkins produced a report for QLDC in March 2018 entitled "Sustaining Tourism Growth in Queenstown." The bottom line of this report was QLDC asking the Government for $278 million over 5 years to "underpin further growth in international visitors." The report was asking Government to pay for tourism infrastructure instead of local residents and tourism businesses. As far as we can tell, the report failed to produce any direct result for QLDC but we'll be asking those questions when QLDC releases the airport study and presumably will tell us more about the background to this situation.
Data revealed to Crux under the LGOIMA official information legislation shows that QLDC paid Martin Jenkins $219,788 prior to July 2019 for an unspecified project that we assume is the tourism funding report.
New data shows another sum, $204,953 paid to Martin Jenkins in the period ending May 14th, 2020. Our assumption, in the light of QLDC's repeated refusal to identify the cost of the airport expansion study, is that this is a part payment for the airport work. Whether it is a third, two thirds or even 100% we can't tell, at this stage. The recent payment brings the total spend with this firm of consultants to $424,741.
There will be many questions this week about the content of the report, the cost of the report and the fact that it has been delayed or withheld while elected councillors approved the Queenstown Airport Corporation's Statement of Intent a few weeks ago. One of the selling points for the scope and cost of the airport study is that it would have informed the SOI process. That has not happened.
QLDC marketing and comms staff have repeatedly told Crux that QLDC has had no involvement in editing, influencing or shaping the Martin Jenkins report, saying that delivery and publication delays are due to Covid 19.
Ironically, the Martin Jenkins website boasts of rapid turnaround capabilities due to the Covid-19 crisis.