Geddes standing by cloak & dagger deal

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Mayor Clive Geddes says he agrees with the decision to keep fellow councillors in the dark over the controversial Queens-town Airport share sell-off. 

Geddes was given a confidential briefing by Queenstown Airport board chairman Mark Taylor and chief executive Steve Sanderson on July 2 – five days before the deal was finally signed off. 

Queenstown Lakes District Council chief executive Debra Lawson, finance boss Stewart Burns and deputy mayor John S. Wilson also attended and signed confidentiality clauses ahead of the briefing. 

The rest of the councillors – totalling nine – weren’t briefed by Taylor and Sanderson until July 7, the day the deal was inked. 

Geddes says whether to tell the councillors earlier was discussed at the confidential briefing on July 2 and ultimately it was Queenstown Airport’s decision. 

“We discussed the risks around it and we reached agreement that the councillors would be briefed at the time that they were. 

“I agreed with the process we’ve followed and I’m very comfortable with it. 

“There were difficulties in respect to the number of [councillors] involved. No one sat down and said ‘We can’t trust the councillors if they sign a confidentiality agreement’. The risk to the transaction was it would have been entirely within the entitlement of some councillors to say I’m not prepared to sign the confidentiality agreement. 

You then have the problem where some say they will and some say they won’t.” 

Geddes says he has confidence in the judgement of Queenstown Airport’s board of directors. 

The first part of the deal, involving a sell-off of 24.99 per cent of Queenstown Airport to Auckland International Airport for $27.7 million, has created a storm of controversy – with some councillors up in arms and the Chamber of Commerce questioning the price paid. 

A group of 10 Queenstown business and political heavyweights called the Community Strategic Assets Group has also formed to fight any further sell-off and says it’s considering legal action over the sale. 

Auckland has the option of taking its slice of Queenstown Airport up to 35 per cent, which will trigger a special one-off dividend of $10m to majority shareholder QLDC. 

When the deal was announced, Taylor said the capital injection would help fund $40m of upgrades and development during the next three years. 

That includes much-needed infrastructure such as runway end safety areas, costing a further $3.8m, a taxiway for planes and jet hard-stands at $12.8m.

Also see: 

Short-changed

Council lessens grip if further sell-off