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Wanaka: Airport Report "Very Expensive Window Dressing" To Cover QLDC's "Inappropriate Decisions"

Yesterday, Queenstown Lakes District Council released a 236 page report from Wellington consultants MartinJenkins, purporting to "objectively capture the likely effects of future airport development" in our district. On our first complete reading, we are disappointed with this report, and we will review it closely over time.

The following is a statement from our Chair, Michael Ross, on behalf of our 3,425 members:

Back in early February, Wanaka Stakeholders Group Inc. raised nine key concerns about QLDC proceeding with this report. The letter is here. Every one of our concerns has proved to be correct, and has been ignored by QLDC and their consultants. They also ignored an additional set of concerns raised two weeks later, here.

The report tells us nothing we don't already know. Both the Wanaka and Queenstown communities are opposed to further development or expansion of the sort that is clearly planned by QAC. People in the region are very worried about environmental and social impacts of significantly increased airport activities. We summarised for all here, the seven key reasons there should should be no commercial jet aircraft operations at Wanaka Airport. Predictably, with the MartinJenkins report in hand, both QLDC and QAC are going to argue that the "economic impacts" of building bigger jet airport capacity in the region far outweigh negative social impacts, which are largely watered down in the report.

Environmental impacts are painted as "minor", which in 2020 is just unbelievable. The report and the process also ignore the very scenario which our community has been asking for for quite some time (maintain services to Queenstown Airport, and continue with Wanaka Airport as a complimentary hub for general aviation with some scheduled turbo-prop services) even though these were formally raised during "community consultation" for this report and ironically, even thought this is the very scenario that the earlier Astral Report commissioned by QLDC, recommended to them.

The $214,000 spent on QLDC's report has been an inappropriate waste of taxpayers' money and is nothing more than very expensive window dressing which provides cover for the inappropriate decisions that QAC and QLDC intend to persist with once tourism volumes start to return. The money spent on a report aimed at fixing up a flawed process should have been better directed to more pressing community needs - and there are many of them.

Contrary to statements in the media made in the media by Mayor Jim Boult to give the impression that the development of Wanaka Airport is "off the table", recent communications and decisions from Council signal that QAC's plans for a jet airport in Wanaka are still in place and will be agreed to by QLDC.

We also believe that QAC's planned jet runway at Wanaka Airport will cost ratepayers millions of dollars - likely $20 million or more - to move Project Pure out of the way, with no additional benefit to ratepayers, but largely at our cost. QLDC's decisions to agree to terms in the so-called lease which enable this to occur have not been discussed with the community and in our court proceedings we contend that they are unlawful. We believe that QLDC is already committing budget to this, including in this year's Annual Plan. This is also an unjustifiable waste of very large amounts of ratepayers' money, particularly in the current environment.

Although QAC is a CCTO, Auckland International Airport Ltd has a significant influence over the operation of both Wanaka and Queenstown airports given its 24.99% shareholding, coupled with the strategic alliance agreement. WSG will press ahead with judicial review proceedings so that the High Court can determine the issues and the lawfulness of the so-called lease which gives substantial ownership and control of Wanaka Airport and Project Pure to QAC.

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