Councillors told belt up about airport

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Councillors seeking re-election are gagged from discussing one of Queenstown’s biggest talking points in years. 

The zip-your-lip order came to light when mayoral candidate Vanessa van Uden was approached by Mountain Scene over new revelations in the Queenstown Airport sell-off saga. 

Van Uden: “I’m under instruction that we’re not to speak on the airport at all – much as I’d like to.”
Says who? “[Council] management, given there’s a court case happening.” 

Air New Zealand and the Queenstown Community Strategic Assets Group have filed legal actions over the sale of 24.99 to 35 per cent of the resort airport to Auckland International Airport. 

The new gag stems from council lawyers, Van Uden says – and she’ll comply. 

Mayoral rivals Michael Scott and Simon Hayes understand the airport debating restrictions but Hayes says they’re “annoying”. 

He may have an electoral advantage over Van Uden: “I’m able to speak a little more freely.” 

It’s not ideal for democracy: “Far from it – there’s nothing about this [airport] deal that’s ideal.” 

Hayes is also stunned at new airport revelations. 

Mountain Scene has discovered that nine days before councillors learned of the secret share sale, Queenstown Lakes District Council voted for greater transparency from their airport. 

A June 29 QLDC meeting finalised a Queenstown Airport Corporation “statement of intent” – a formal document giving QLDC some control over QAC. 

Councillors weren’t happy with the draft SOI and made a key change. “The goal of ‘open, meaningful and effective communication with the community’ was added,” official minutes record. 

Mountain Scene pointed this out to QAC chairman Mark Taylor. 

Taylor claims after the meeting, QLDC staff looked at the existing SOI wording and decided it met councillors’ wishes – so the new wording wasn’t added. 

The present wording merely refers to “adequate communication between QAC, the community and elected representatives”. 

“I’m bloody gobsmacked,” mayoral hopeful Hayes says. 

“If I had a situation where staff, whoever they might be, were changing the directive given them by council – their heads have got to be on the block.” 

Scott didn’t want to comment on airport matters.