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Meeting this week aims to deal with Queenstown Airport standoff

Feb 24, 2020

The Queenstown Lakes District Council has called an extraordinary meeting next week - the next step to address a long-running stand-off between the council and the council-owned Queenstown Airport Corporation.

Last year the council twice rejected the airport's proposed statement of intent - a document that broadly outlines strategy and plans for the coming three years.

But the saga goes further back than that, to mid 2018, when the airport announced plans to double the number of flights over 30 years.

The backlash was swift and directed with many high-profile locals saying tourist numbers were unsustainable and needed to be capped.

In its defence, the airport said it was just putting on the table the projected growth for the area and the number of flights in and out of Queenstown each year would have to expand from 21,000 to 41,600. That was so it could cope with an expected 2.5 million passengers that will be travelling to and from the resort by 2045.

If they did not come by plane, then they would arrive by car, the airport said.

The airport eventually backed down and took its proposal off the table, and turned its attention to Wānaka - which proved just as problematic.

When the airport took its statement of intent to the council last June, public sentiment had spilled into the council chambers and councillors narrowly rejected it.

Following October's elections, the newly appointed council did the same.

A steering group was formed - which included three councillors, Mayor Jim Boult, council chief executive Mike Theelen and the airport's chief executive Colin Keel - to assist the airport corporation.

A plane takes off at Queenstown Airport. Photo: 123rf

The airport was due to bring its statement of intent to the council by 1 March.

But on Tuesday they would meet to decide whether to give the airport an extra month, until April, to present the draft.

According to a council report that would have no effect on the timeline for the final draft, which would still be due on or before 1 July.

At the same time consultancy firm MartinJenkins was seeking community views on the future options for the district's airports.

Anyone was able to complete the survey by visiting the council's website or at the Queenstown or Wānaka council offices.

"While the engagement is being run independently by MartinJenkins, QLDC is encouraging as many people in the community as possible to participate and have their say. The survey will be open for a three-week period and will be available via the QLDC Let's Talk site," the council said.

"Early insights and key themes from the engagement will be provided to councillors along with findings from the economic and social impact assessments, by early March. The final report will be presented in early May. These early insights and the final report will help to inform Council's decision-making for the next Queenstown Airport Corporation Statement of Intent and the draft Spatial Plan."

Councillor Quentin Smith, an at-times critic of the airport, said he encouraged the public to take part.

"We hear very loudly the fears of the community and I, in many respects, share a lot of that concern," he said.

We do hope that people take the opportunity to do the survey - whether it's perfect or imperfect - in order to have a voice and exercise that voice

"I hope a very clear message comes out through that survey."

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