Wānaka Airport lobby group claims council limiting information flow

by Kim Bowden - May 08, 2024

A Wānaka Airport lobby group that successfully challenged the council and Queenstown Airport in the High Court is once again flagging its concerns about how the airport is being managed.

Deputy chair of the Wānaka Stakeholders Group Mark Sinclair says they want to see more transparency and involvement around any plans for the airport - and they're questioning the degree to which that's being delivered on.

"We're not opposed to development of the airport, or to progress, or to scheduled air services. We never have been. Nor are we anti-business or anti-tourism. Far from it. Many of our members own or run a business.

"As you well know, our primary focus has been seeking transparency and full community involvement around any plans for Wānaka Airport. And I'm afraid to say councillors, we are already concerned again."

Mr Sinclair put the group's claims to the mayor and councillors at a council meeting on Thursday, saying the council had "rejected" many of the group's requests for transparency relating to the airport's finances.

During his address in the meeting's public forum Mr Sinclair said the stakeholders group had asked for details of the management fee paid to the Queenstown Airport Corporation - which he understood to be more than $300,000 per year and projected to grow significantly - as well as why lucrative NASA fees had been taken out of the airport's profit and loss statement, but no information in response had been forthcoming.

"We're concerned that there is strong and repeated messaging from QLDC all of a sudden that the airport is, as you put it, 'not washing its face financially'.

"One councillor has even said that it's QLDC's worst performing asset."

According to research by the group, businesses based at the airport generate $70 million in annual revenue, provide 147 full time jobs paying $9.3 million in salaries, and support more than 700 suppliers. 

Mr Sinclair told the council's elected members he had heard lease negations for some of those businesses had been "difficult and protracted and super frustrating".

"In some cases, they've been trying for six years to renew their leases. You are proposing to raise the rent significantly, but you won't even share the valuation report with them, which is standard commercial practice."

He claimed there had been "chronic underinvestment in Wānaka Airport over many years" and that the deputy mayor had acknowledged the council had "been bad landlords over a sustained period".

Mr Sinclair finished his address by asking the council "to turn over a new leaf with Wānaka Airport and provide full and frank information, put a full range of options - and all the details - on the table, and involve the community properly from the outset".

"The high court and the Local Government Commission have both ruled that you need to improve transparency, information flows and build better relationships with us all.

"Yet what we are seeing is the same set of issues ramping up again."

In May, the council announced the appointment of Rob Phillips as the independent chair of the newly formed Wānaka Airport Liaison Committee.

In a statement at the time, the council outlined the liaison committee's responsibilities, and they included "assisting QLDC and Queenstown Airport Corporation to communicate and engage with the community".

Mr Sinclair said the establishment of the stakeholders group had "failed thus far to improve the situation".

Crux has put Mr Sinclair's claims to the liaison committee chair for comment.

Main image (File photo): A flight approach to Wānaka Airport.


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