Emails: Mayor actively involved in airport growth campaign
As survey after survey have reaffirmed community opposition to new and expanded airports in the district, Mayor Jim Boult has been active behind the scenes in pushing for expansion with airport executives, board members, politicians and Air New Zealand managers.
Official emails obtained by Crux also show little if any reference by the mayor to elected councillors and a reliance on the Otago Daily Times to publish pro-airport editorials. Many of the emails have been heavily redacted by the QLDC and Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC).
The emails also show frequent adverse comment by the Mayor on the Wanaka Stakeholders Group and a close working relationship with the CEO’s of both Queenstown and Auckland airports.
The Governance structure of the Queenstown Airport Corporation, in which the ratepayers have a 75 percent stake via QLDC (the remaining 25 percent is owned by Auckland Airport), requires an annual Statement of Intent (approved by council) that the airport then has to follow. There are also formal steering group meetings and administrative contact between the airport CEO and the QLDC CEO.
Informal, influential contact by the district’s mayor with key airport players appears at odds with the formal governance structures that are designed to deliver accountability, adherence to policy, transparency, and community engagement.
Over the past three years Jim Boult has been very actively involved in supporting former airport CEO’s Colin Keel (Queenstown) and Adrian Littlewood (Auckland) – as well as having direct contact with their respective successors.
In recent times many of Boult’s meetings, phone calls and emails appear to have focussed on trying to block the proposed airport at Tarras – a project that would compete with Queenstown airport.
On January 22 this year Mayor Boult contacted QAC CEO Glen Sowry saying he wanted to talk with new Auckland Airport CEO Carrie Hurihanganui – asking Sowry for her direct number. Ms Hurihanganui has previously opposed the expansion of Queenstown airport in favour of a new Central Otago airport at Tarras.
Back in May 2019, shortly after Crux published Ms Hurihanganui’s support for a new airport, Mayor Boult was discussing with QAC chair Prue Flacks talks that were underway with Air NZ Chair Tony Carter and then Air NZ CEO Christopher Luxon (now Leader of the Opposition National Party) on Tarras. None of this appears to have been shared with elected councillors.
In an undated email, Mayor Boult refers to “asking Mr Luxon to retract the “build another airport in Central Otago comment.”
Following the resignation of Colin Keel, Simon Flood became acting QAC CEO and asks Mayor Boult on July 28, 2020, if he should go to a public meeting re: Tarras airport to “listen to what was being said” but “wanted to test the water with you in case you would prefer that I did not attend.” The Mayor said Mr Flood could take this advice from the QAC Board.
At the height of the battle over the expansion of Wānaka airport, Mayor Boult was especially active behind the scenes in attacking the Wānaka Stakeholders Group and supporting airport CEO Colin Keel in his ultimately unsuccessful battle to win hearts, minds and support for a new jet capable airport.
This is all at a time where, risking a failed bid for a second term as Mayor, Boult promised the community that the QLDC, and airport, would abide by the community’s wishes via the Martyn Jenkins airport survey. A separate official information request by councillor Niki Gladding revealed the role that QLDC managers (especially CEO Mike Theelen) played in supporting the airport expansion plans, even writing one of Boult’s key election speeches.
A couple of months before the 2019 local elections, Jim Boult forwards a pro-airport Wānaka email to airport boss Colin Keel and airport Chair Prue Flacks including his reply to the redacted sender:
“I very much appreciate this email. I’m sure you will have been well aware of the deluge of information from those opposed to the resumption of (Wānaka airport) services and the very misleading statements accompanying that information.”
In a similar reply to another email, forwarded to Colin Keel, Boult says:
“In my view the Wānaka Stakeholders Group are putting out false information which has led to unnecessary angst in the community. I would very much encourage you to speak out and get some common sense into the debate.”
At the same time Boult emails Colin Keel saying efforts by former Radio Wānaka owner Mike Regal to challenge the anti-airport campaign is “God’s Work.”
Things get even more bizarre when Mr Regal reveals that he “chickened out” of a Wānaka Sun interview because he was scared of being “bullied” by the Wānaka Stakeholders Group. Colin Keel then shares this saga with the Board of the Queenstown Airport Corporation and Board Chair Adrienne Young-Cooper saying “I feel for the fellow who put his head up.”
Ultimately a High Court judicial review found that the lease over Wānaka airport was unlawful as the community has not been properly consulted by QLDC and QAC on expansion plans. Evidence was heard in court that claimed both Mayor Boult and the QLDC had been "evasive and misleading" on the issue of airportt expansion.
There were over 150 emails altogether, released after an extended official information request. The picture painted is of Mayor Boult acting as a stand-alone corporate Chief Executive in support of what he seems to regard as “his” airport. The concept of the Queenstown Airport Corporation belonging 75% to the ratepayers, as represented by the elected councillors, seems to hardly crop up in the Boult emails.
There is even less evidence of the multiple community surveys that tell QLDC, via a crystal-clear majority, that further airport expansion is not supported.
Auckland International Airport Ltd refused to supply any emails to Crux on the basis that they were not subject to official information legislation.
Mayor Boult was approached for comment but did not reply.