Opinion: Who decides our future?


We were among around 3000 homeowners who received a letter from Queenstown Airport Corporation CEO Colin Keel last week telling us of the consultation QAC would hold over the next month, based on the noise impacts its 30-year plan would have on our homes.

QAC’s plan would see an almost doubling of current flight numbers by 2045 – an average of 114 flights/day. During peak times, this equates to more than one plane every five minutes. For those living in the 3000 homes who would now be included in the Outer Control Boundary, that’s a lot of interrupted conversations and loss of peace and quiet.

But there’s an elephant in the room that’s not being discussed.

QAC’s plan is based on it deciding that 5.1 million passenger movements (each tourist counts for two passenger movements) is the appropriate target for Queenstown by 2045. That is two million passenger movements less than the 7.1 million its “extensive modelling and forecasting” suggested demand would reach.

There’s a big difference between these two numbers. On face value, it appears QAC has taken upon itself to create a bottleneck at the airport, cutting potential visitor numbers by one million over the next 27 years.

Of course, there will be arguments on either side. Some might say aiming at 2.55 million tourists arriving by air alone in 2045 will put unacceptable costs in terms of rates, traffic congestion, noise and other impacts on our community. Others might say limiting growth by one million tourists is a bad business decision that will stunt Queenstown’s growth and profitability.

My point is, the critical decision of what is appropriate tourism growth for Queenstown Lakes should not be left in the hands of QAC. Where are the voices of council and the community?

We’re not privy to the assumptions made or objectives of QAC’s forecasting models that came up with these figures. Are they aligned with the assumptions council and the community would make and the objectives we’d be aiming for?

QAC is a profit-oriented commercial entity. It is 24.99 per cent owned by Auckland Airport, 75.01 per cent by council.

It is a council-controlled trading organisation but council control of it is limited to matters contained in its statement of corporate intent and letter of shareholder’s expectations.

Surely these two documents, approved annually by our councillors, don’t abrogate council’s integral responsibility for setting our district’s own tourism growth targets?

Is this why QAC is currently in the driver’s seat of this decision, based on just five weeks’ community consultation where it is tangential to what is being consulted on (noise boundaries) and with no publicly-available analysis of its implications?

Fundamental questions of whether the community wants, can afford, or has the capacity for this number of tourists (not even counting those who arrive by road) are not even raised.

And fair enough, QAC is not the appropriate body to address these. Council – as elected representatives of our community – should be doing so. But there seems to be stark silence on that front.

I saw no mention in council’s extensive PR about its “boldest ever” 10-year plan of any tourism growth target or whether the huge infrastructural costs our community is now taking on would meet the infrastructural requirements of QAC’s plan.

The point is – this discussion has not been held. The questions have not been asked. The research and analysis have not been done. Or if it has, no one has told the community.

Council should step up and take responsibility for leading this discussion and the decision – based on robust analysis and proper, targeted consultation with its community.

If not, then we have until August 20 to realise that we are not just consulting about some squiggles on the map, but about the rate of tourism growth we as a community want – without the benefit of any serious analysis of its impacts.

To leave this key decision about our district’s future in the hands of QAC is not democratic, it is not transparent, it is not robust and it is plain not right.

Cath Gilmour is a former Queenstown councillor