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By TRACEY ROXBURGH

The High Court’s upheld an application to judicially review Queenstown’s council’s decision to grant a long-term lease of Wanaka Airport to Queenstown Airport Corporation.

The lease was challenged by the Wanaka Stakeholders Group, which applied to the High Court for the judicial review.

Its chair, Michael Ross, says they’re ‘‘absolutely delighted’’ with the decision.

‘‘This judgment confirms what we and our nearly 3500 members have said clearly and consistently from the outset: the community was not consulted properly and QLDC has not been transparent about such possible plans.

‘‘The Upper Clutha community has been emphatic: we don’t want an additional jet airport developed near Wanaka, and we won’t stand by while our local council or airport company act against the will of the community.’’

The court held that in granting a 100-year lease — which is perpetually renewable unless notice of termination’s given three decades in advance — the council transferred control of
Wanaka Airport to QAC.

Under the lease, the council sold the airport buildings, runway and associated infrastructure to QAC, and gave the airport company rights to make most decisions regarding Wanaka Airport’s future development and operation.

It also gave QAC ‘‘certain rights’’ with respect to the future development of Project Pure, the wastewater treatment plant operated by the council on land within the perimeter of the airport.

Under the Local Government Act (LGA) 2002, a transfer of control of a strategic asset, like Wanaka Airport, can take place only under the process prescribed in the Act for the adoption or amendment of the council’s long-term plan.

The court found that process hasn’t been followed, so granting the lease didn’t comply with the Act and was unlawful.

In a 66-page decision, the court also held the council’s consultation process before granting the lease didn’t comply with LGA requirements.

The court’s satisfied the lease was agreed by the council’s ‘‘negotiating team’’ in the expectation Wanaka Airport would be developed as a complementary airport to  Queenstown, to accommodate narrow-body jets, and the lease was intended to enable that
level of development, even if no final decisions had been made on the timing and scale of future jet services.

But the proposal the council consulted on envisaged more limited development at the airport, and that didn’t include scheduled jet services.

The court considered the expectation of introducing jet services to Wanaka Airport arose during lease negotiations, after the consultation process finished.

Consequently, the proposal the council consulted on didn’t fairly represent the nature of the decision made by the council to grant the lease, meaning deciding to grant the lease was also unlawful.

The Court acknowledged there’d be disruption to Wanaka Airport tenants, the council and the airport company if the lease were set aside, but it considered if it wasn’t, the public’s ability to have a say in the future uses of the airport over the next century or more would be limited.

QAC chair Adrienne Young-Cooper says they’ll work with the council to consider ‘‘next steps’’ and won’t be making any further comment at the moment.

A council spokesman says it acknowledges the court finding the correct statutory processes weren’t followed, but welcomes its rejection the community deliberately misled the community in doing so.

“We will be reflecting on the findings of Justice Van Bohemen and working with councillors and QAC to agree the next steps for Wanaka Airport, and communicating those with the community and most importantly with the many businesses operating out of the facility.

”In the meantime the Wanaka Airport remains in the ownership of QLDC and we will look to QAC to continue to provide a managed service, and to ensure that there is minimal disruption to operators and tenants.

“QLDC will not be making any further comment at this time,” the spokesman said.

tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz