Council rejects airport CEO's expansion plans
In a dramatic and sometimes heated debate this afternoon the Queenstown Lakes District Council narrowly voted to receive the Queenstown Airport Corporation's annual Statement of Intent, but with the clear message that the contents were not acceptable.
In a six to five vote council decided to receive the report, avoiding a dramatic refusal that could have left the airport in a technical twilight zone.
Instead the QAC was told to rework the document so that it better reflected the community's concerns over noise, environmental damage, over tourism and aviation safety.
The QAC's Chief Executive Colin Keel was told in extremely clear language that many councillors felt he had not listened properly to questions raised at a previous council meeting and that he had also not paid sufficient attention to a guidance letter from the council on their expectations for the Statement of Intent.
At one stage Mr Keel was challenged on his view that the growth of Queenstown airport, and a future Wanaka airport, was "demand driven". Councillor John MacDonald argued that growth should instead be "community driven."
Mr Keel then replied that the demand for expansion expansion was "community demand" as well as "visitor demand", a statement that was met with a mix of laughter and booing from the packed public gallery.
Councillor MacDonald then accused Mr Keel of using misleading language and he told the meeting that this had, in his view, become typical of the QAC's recent public documents and statements.
Councillor Alexa Forbes said that she was "very disappointed" with the Statement of Intent and said "I won't be receiving this document."
That was a view echoed by Wanaka's Quentin Smith. "Decisions are being made without consultation. Details are being withheld from the public. I won't be receiving this document."
Again from councillor Craig "Ferg" Ferguson - "I won't be receiving this document."
Ross McRobie also was critical of the SOI, focusing on the description of future Wanaka flights being just "a handful". "That's not an acceptable measurement and it raises questions about transparency. I am having difficulty accepting this document."
A public submitter against the airport's expansion plans was Queenstown engineer John Halse who told the meeting that aircraft were operating "just on the edge of their safety margins". Mr Halse said that an Air New Zealand A320 aircraft had narrowly avoided a fatal crash nine years ago in an incident that had not been previously reported. He claimed that airport expansion would dramatically increase the risk of a serious crash in the future. See our video interview with John Halse below.
Mayor Jim Boult managed to avoid councillors voting to refuse to receive the QAC document by adding the caveat that ongoing discussions would take place over the content.
"The Statement of Intent will change" Mayor Boult told the meeting.
Watch: Engineer John Halse details safety concerns over future airport expansion.