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Wanaka Community Group: Timetable Set For High Court; Watching Tarras Airport

A significant vocal community group in Wanaka has today confirmed its stance on the two jet airports proposed near Wanaka. Wanaka Stakeholders Group Inc. (“WSG”) was established to give voice to those opposing the development of a jet airport at Wanaka’s community airport just 10 minutes from the lakeside town. Last week, a second jet airport was announced by Christchurch Airport, to be built 20 minutes further down the road at Tarras.

The committee and 20 core members of WSG released the following statement on behalf of WSG’s membership, which now numbers 3,439 people:

WSG remains strongly opposed to jet-capable airport at Wanaka Airport

WSG stands by its now well known and clearly articulated position regarding a proposed jet-capable airport at Wanaka Airport, on behalf of our thousands of members.

The idea of Queenstown Airport Corporation (“QAC”) building a second jet airport at Wanaka, just an hour’s drive from Queenstown Airport, in order primarily to bring in more and more tourists to Queenstown and surrounding communities is unnecessary, undesirable and against the best interests of the wellbeing of our community. (See our “7 Key Reasons” document previously published here along with substantial evidence in support).

QLDC has expressly turned down WSG’s offer of a “reset” in light of Covid-19 impacts

Earlier this year, the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic began to take their toll on the previous growth projections QAC and some at QLDC rely on - it was clear that ever-increasing inbound tourism and international air travel numbers were plummeting, and would likely not return for some time. WSG immediately invited QLDC and QAC to resolve our judicial review proceedings against them, by suggesting all parties agree to a reset and avoid litigation. In a letter sent to all QLDC Councillors before lockdown on 18th March 2020, we asked them to return Wanaka Airport to QLDC and give control of Project Pure back to our council also.

Regrettably and surprisingly, Mayor Boult wrote to us more than two weeks later and confirmed that QLDC would not agree to this. 

In his letter to us on 2 April 2020, Jim Boult wrote: “To be clear, it remains the Council’s position that there has already been formal, lawful and appropriate public consultation undertaken in respect of the governance and management structure of Wānaka Airport via the Special Consultative Procedure undertaken in 2016-17. If WSG’s proposal of a “total reset” refers to an unwinding of the lease, this will not be considered.”

WSG now proceeding to High Court hearing, confirmed for the week of 21 September

We are now forced to continue on to a hearing in the High Court. QLDC’s position is clearly not acceptable to us.

Our hearing has been confirmed for week commencing 21 September 2020. This week, we are finalising our substantial amount of evidence for filing with the court at the end of this month. We are asking the court to declare the so-called “lease” of Wanaka Airport unlawful and restore full ownership and control of Wanaka Airport and Project Pure (two strategic community assets) back to QLDC for the benefit of our community.

WSG concerned about potential impacts of airport at Tarras; awaiting more information

After last week’s shock announcement from Christchurch International Airport Ltd (“CIAL”) that they intend to build an international jet airport at Tarras, WSG is watching carefully to see if and how CIAL fulfills its commitment to consult the residents of Tarras and other communities which will be affected.

There is no doubt that all surrounding communities, including those of Tarras, Queensberry, Luggate, Hawea, Wanaka and Cromwell would be significantly impacted by the development of an international airport. On behalf of our thousands of members, we note that many of the concerns we have raised in relation to the jet airport proposal at the existing Wanaka Airport are likely to also apply to an international jet airport in Tarras, just 20 minutes further from Wanaka by car. Many of these are outlined here.

We are therefore looking forward to more detailed information from CIAL about their proposals at Tarras, enabling us to form a clearer view about that proposed development.

QAC’s position in light of the CIAL announcement about Tarras

Even if Queenstown Lakes District Council (“QLDC”) and QAC still propose their jet airport development at Wanaka post Covid-19, then in light of last week’s Tarras announcement from CIAL, the only sensible decisions that QLDC and QAC can now make are:

To leave CIAL to find and spend hundreds of millions of dollars required to build such an airport, if indeed after full and proper consultation, the community and the nation decides that this is an appropriate way forward (which we have serious questions and reservations about … see our comment below about the future of tourism), and

To abandon any thoughts of developing Wanaka as a jet capable airport and return Wanaka Airport and Project Pure to QLDC’s 100% ownership and control, as two strategic assets of our community.

It’s time for a serious rethink about mass tourism and our future, not a time for building airports

In the wake of Covid-19 and the likely long term impacts on international travel, this is a time to take stock, review and reconsider the effects of mass tourism on New Zealand, and particularly Central Otago. Another international airport will only supercharge the problems Queenstown, Wanaka, Tekapo and other tourism hotspots were experiencing pre-Covid. Surely we should start by examining what our national tourism policy should be?

It is also very difficult to understand how a jet airport at Wanaka or an international jet airport at Tarras could possibly help New Zealand to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in line with our international commitments.

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