'Cautious optimism' over new Wānaka airport liaison chair

by Peter Newport - May 12, 2023

The appointment of Rob Phillips as chair of the new Wānaka Airport Liaison Committee has been given a qualified thumbs up by Protect Wānaka.

Mr Phillips (main image above) is the former chief executive of Environment Southland. 

Mark Sinclair - appointment a "good first step."

Protect Wānaka successfully mounted a legal challenge to the Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Queenstown Airport Corporation's plans to expand Wānaka Airport, resulting in the project being cancelled, at least in the short term, due to what a judicial review decided was inadequate consultation with Wānaka residents. 

Speaking to Crux today, the lobby group's deputy chair Mark Sinclair said that on first look the new appointment could work.

"The Wānaka Airport Liaison Committee is long overdue. The appointment of a chair has been a very drawn out process, and finally having a chair for the committee is a good first step. We're cautiously optimistic, and we look forward to meeting Mr Phillips and seeing what he can achieve for our community and our community asset, the airport.

"It now remains to be seen how the rest of the committee is made up and, more importantly, how the Committee operates when it finally gets up and running. The next few weeks will be interesting."

The QLDC made the announcement late Friday afternoon (May 12).

Council chief executive Mike Theelen said councillors agreed unanimously to adopt the governance subcommittee’s recommendation of Mr Phillips as the preferred candidate during a public excluded session of the full council meeting on Friday, April 27.

QLDC's Mike Theelen welcomed Mr Phillips' "open leadership style and strategic approach."

“All details have now been finalised and I welcome Rob to this new position. With more than 22 years’ experience in executive and leadership roles he clearly demonstrated through the recruitment process that he’ll bring the skills, experience and independence required,” Mr Theelen said.

“His strategic approach, open leadership style and focus on achieving outcomes and recognising the importance of a strong organisational culture will enable him to chair the committee and deliver on its key responsibilities.”

A requirement of the District Plan, the committee’s responsibilities include reviewing complaints relating to airport operations or noise, assisting QLDC (in its role as regulator) and Queenstown Airport Corporation (which manages Wānaka Airport’s day-to-day operations on behalf of QLDC under a management services agreement*) to communicate and engage with the community, and reviewing progress on any airport development activity.

Mr Phillips said he was looking forward to working with airport-based businesses and the wider community.

“Wānaka Airport plays a wide range of roles including that of a hugely respected flight training centre and the home of internationally famous air show, Warbirds over Wānaka. The committee will be an important new body taking a helicopter view of relevant activities there,” he said.

“Given this committee has not existed before we’ll be working initially to shape how we operate in line with our terms of reference.”

The QLDC has appointed Simon Telfer as its representative from the Wānaka-Upper Clutha Community Board. Other members will be appointed and will include, but not be limited to, representatives from the Wānaka Airport Users Group, airways and commercial airlines.

The vacant position of chair was advertised for ten weeks in local and national media, and online, with a closing date for expressions of interest of Friday, February 24. The governance subcommittee shortlisted candidates and conducted interviews on Tuesday, March 21 and then resolved to recommend Rob Phillips for the position at its meeting on Wednesday, April 19.

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