Councillor signals QLDC plan to fastrack airport Statement of Intent

by Niki Gladding - Apr 09, 2020


Editor's Note: Niki Gladding is one of the few QLDC councillors who is prepared to publicly question some of the plans and strategies currently being progressed through the local council pipeline. Most locals will be familiar with how important the Queenstown Airport Corporation's Statement of Intent (SOI) is. It is basically the airport's annual licence to operate and to carry out various commercial activities. Basically, if it's in the SOI that council approves, they can go ahead and do it. The ratepayer, via QLDC, owns 75% of the airport corporation. As Niki Gladding points out in her piece below, why would QLDC, in these extremely uncertain times, be fast-tracking this year's airport SOI through the April council meeting which will be run remotely and therefore may have no public forum and limited visibility? Of particular concern will be issues around expansion and debt. If under the SOI the airport goes ahead with projects like Queenstown terminal expansion using debt, then that debt could reduce council/ratepayer dividends, become a ratepayer/council liability or even change airport ownership if new shares had to be issued to cover that debt. Last year the SOI went through a series of publicly scrutinised council reviews - this year it could be approved before the end of the month and before we've all had a chance to see the outcome of the all-important Martin Jenkins airport impact survey.

Crux has asked for comment from Mayor Jim Boult, QAC CEO Colin Keel and QLDC CEO Mike Theelen. Thanks to Niki for having the courage to shine some light on this situation. We will publish each response as soon as it is received.

** Jim Boult has replied: "The correct place for this discussion will be at the council meeting. My comments will be available then."

"This is for those of you who still have the capacity to think about Airports and Statements of Intent (SOI) and the like – I appreciate that many won’t, and I hope you’re all doing ok.

Nothing but welfare should be rushed through during this lockdown.  Certainly, COVID-19 should not be used as an excuse to rush through the approval of Queenstown Airport Corporation’s (QAC’s) SOI, but that’s what a majority of councillors have decided to do.  The SOI will come to Council for approval on April 23rd – months earlier than required, months earlier than signalled, and without the usual opportunity for community input.    

QLDC Councillor Niki Gladding

For anyone not familiar with the ‘SOI’, it is a statutory document that sets out the companies’ objectives and financial plans for the following 3 years and it needs Council approval.  In the past, QLDC has ‘received’ a draft in March; the document has then been publicly available, and residents have had weeks to request changes via elected members.  Under statutory timeframes the final draft must be presented to Council by June 30th (unless Council extends that to July 30th).  This year we will skip the first step and jump straight to approving (or agreeing to amend) the document - this month.  The community will have only 2 days to consider the draft and if anyone wants to address the Council, they will need access to Zoom (assuming Council can make that facility available).

The option to take the draft SOI to this month’s meeting was put to councillors, without warning, at a workshop on Monday - with QAC’s Chair and CE looking on.  The argument was made that if councillors were happy with the version before them there was no need to amend it or wait until June to approve it.  Unsurprisingly there wasn’t agreement about the draft or the altered process but, with seven out of ten councillors immediately supportive, the Mayor decided he had the numbers and there was no further discussion.

Without going into detail, here are my concerns with the draft: QAC has not considered the work done by Martin Jenkins (N.B. the draft report is due the day after the Council meeting); it allows for significant borrowing and capital spend; and it retains growth objectives.  My key concern with approving it is that we would not be managing the risk to QLDC’s majority shareholding at a time of extreme financial instability.

My concerns (documented pre-election) remain unchanged:

I’ve written this because I feel very strongly that people deserve the opportunity to ensure this draft does not come to Council for approval in April, during lockdown.  In my opinion Council should be ‘receiving’ a draft in April, not approving one. If you have concerns with the process, please let your elected members know.  We can still ensure this is not on this month’s Agenda.

Niki Gladding

Councillor, Wakatipu Ward."

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