Councillors back Q'town airport's right to make hidden strategic plans

by Peter Newport - Jan 28, 2021

There was a resounding defeat at today’s full council meeting for councillors who wanted the future strategic plans of the Queenstown Airport Corporation to be more tightly controlled by elected representatives.

Councillor Niki Gladding

Councillors Niki Gladding and Niamh Shaw, with some support from Quentin Smith, argued for more stringent controls over the Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) via a Statement of Expectation (SOE) that will precede the all-important annual Statement of Intent.

New wording that would force the airport, owned 75% by ratepayers and 25% by Auckland airport, to be open in making its strategic plans was defeated in voting that focussed on different forms of amended SOE document.

While Councillors Gladding and Shaw argued for greater transparency in airport management, other councillors as well as Mayor Jim Boult argued that the airport’s strategic plans needed to be kept confidential, especially in light of the perceived threat from Christchurch International Airport Ltd building a new international airport near Tarras.

“We appointed the airport board, now let them get on with it” was the position of Councillor Penny Clark.

Councillor Glyn Lewers - in favour of the airport corporation keeping its strategic plans private

Councillor Glyn Lewers said that making future strategic plans public would “give a leg up to the competition” in a reference to the Tarras project. He added that the council consulting on the airport’s strategic plans would be “mad” and “give people false hope.” He also said that the ratepayers had given their approval back in 2010 for 737-800 narrow body jets to operate out of Wanaka and that he saw no reason for that view to be now overturned.

Councillor Shaw countered with the fact that 4,400 people had taken part in the recent Martin Jenkins impact study with locals most wanting more limits on the airport’s future activities in both Queensotwn and Wanaka. She asked, “why did we spend all that money if we were not going to take notice of what people think?”

Deputy Mayor Calum MacLeod brought the debate down to earth by saying that the district would be lucky to have any international air travellers within two years due to the Covid pandemic. He said changing the Statement of Expectation wording at this stage would be like moving the deckchairs around on the Titanic.

Mayor Jim Boult - "Our economic survival is in the balance."

Mayor Jim Boult said that he was personally committed to protecting the interests of general aviation – the smaller planes and helicopters run by private companies – adding that the airport corporation will have to make some tough decisions in any event due to the depth of the Covid crisis.

The Mayor said the airport’s future strategy should be kept secret because of the Tarras competition threat, adding that the entire district was in for some “reality shock” when the full Covid impact became apparent during 2021.

“Our economic survival is in the balance” he told the council meeting.

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