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'Most significant asset': Queenstown's mayor Jim Boult says City Hall's investigating what reasonable steps it can take to fight off an "unwelcome intrusion" by its Christchurch counterparts

By TRACEY ROXBURGH

Queenstown’s mayor’s labelled a move by Christchurch City Council to profit from our patch a ‘‘predatory activity’’ designed, he says, to attack the value of Queenstown Airport.

Jim Boult calls the decision by Christchurch International Airport Ltd’s (CIAL) majority shareholder an ‘‘unwelcome intrusion into our district’’.

That, he says, is ‘‘simply unfathomable and morally questionable’’.

Boult’s comments were made in a letter to Queenstown Airport board’s boss Adrienne Young-Cooper in September in which he sought to formally record City Hall’s position on the proposed Tarras airport.

The letter, released to Allied Press under the Official Information Act, says while he questions the ‘‘logic, the morality and the chances of a Tarras airport ever becoming a reality’’, City Hall can’t ‘‘simply ignore the matter’’.

‘‘CIAL has spent in the order of $45 million buying the land and, therefore, we can only assume it is serious about the proposal to create an airport.

‘‘For our part, [council] intents to investigate what reasonable steps it [may] take to oppose CIAL’s endeavours.’’

Boult’s letter to Young-Cooper — also sent to his CEO Mike Theelen, Queenstown Airport’s boss Colin Keel and minority shareholder Auckland International Airport’s Adrian Littlewood — is scathing of the plans by Christchurch Airport and says a wide-body-capable international airport a 90-minute drive from Queenstown, ‘‘can only have its sights set to compete with QAC’s Queenstown Airport and possibly Wanaka Airport in the future’’.

Boult tells Mountain Scene it was ‘‘quite surprising’’ to learn of Christchurch Airport’s plans, about an hour before they were publicly announced in July.

‘‘The greater surprise though is that a 75%-owned subsidiary of another council would choose to compete with another 75%-owned subsidiary of our council.

‘‘I’m not sure that territorial authorities have that as one of their things to do; to compete with each other in a commercial sense.

‘‘Effectively, that is what’s happening here.’’

Boult says he wrote to Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel two or three weeks ago ‘‘expressing my disappointment and asking for her views’’.

She responded yesterday afternoon.

‘Simply unfathomable’: Queenstown’s mayor Jim Boult

In terms of potential steps Queenstown’s council might take, Boult — Christchurch Airport’s CEO from 2009 till 2013 — says he can’t answer that until he’s understood the views of Christchurch Airport’s controlling shareholder.

He says he was meant to have met Christchurch Airport’s boss, Malcolm Johns, yesterday — that meeting was canned on Tuesday.

Christchurch Airport comms manager Yvonne Densem says the meeting was pulled because ‘‘the diaries didn’t line up’’ and will be rescheduled when they do.

She says Johns and other airport suits regularly catch up with South Island mayors on a ‘‘wide number of matters, including to canvass aspirations’’.

Yesterday’s meeting was to have been one of those and ‘‘our thinking around aviation infrastructure would have been a topic of conversation’’.

‘‘Any discussions around our idea for a new airport for the lower South Island will occur against well-recognised competition law and regulatory requirements.’’

Boult says he’s had ‘‘a number of conversations’’ with Auckland Airport reps and ‘‘it would be fair to say their views mirror ours’’.

Auckland Airport didn’t respond to a request for comment yesterday.

Questioning motives: Queenstown Airport board boss Adrienne Young-Cooper

For her part, Young-Cooper’s response to Boult, also released under the OIA, says the Tarras development would require ‘‘hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in roading, transport and other public sector infrastructure, funded by ratepayers and taxpayers’’.

The QAC board’s also questioning if Christchurch Airport’s ‘‘attempting to pre-empt careful consideration’’ of the nationally-significant decision being made by the Infrastructure Commission, which is looking at national building infrastructure.

Further, Young-Cooper says, Tarras is ‘‘shaping up to be an airport focused on volume’’.

‘‘Through the recent MartinJenkins report we have heard the concerns of residents in the Queenstown Lakes District in relation to the development of a large-scale airport …

‘‘If CIAL’s proposal moves forward, QLDC and its residents will have no direct role in managing the social and economic impacts of a new airport, or
the detriment to its most significant asset in the existing regional airports in Queenstown and Wanaka.’’

tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz