Queenstowners call for halt to airport deal

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Ten business and political heavyweights aim to ground last week’s big deal on Queenstown Airport – or at least ensure a further sell-off won’t fly. 

The high-powered group is stunned at Queenstown Lakes District Council’s out-of-the-blue deal to sell 24.99 per cent of the resort airport to publicly-listed Auckland International Airport for $27.7 million. Under the deal, Auckland’s stake may also go up to 35 per cent by next year. 

The hurriedly-formed Queens-town Community Strategic Assets Group comprises two ex-mayors, a commercial-property magnate, two major developers and another five senior businessmen. 

Four members are current or former Rich Listers and three are ex-chairmen or directors of Queenstown Airport Corporation. 

“If we could stop the whole deal we’d bloody stop it alright,” former mayor and ex-Queenstown Airport chair John Davies says. 

The initial 24.99 per cent sell-off may be irreversible, he says. 

“We’ll look with a fine-tooth comb how it was done and whether it was done fairly and whether there’s any gaps in how it was done. 

“But I suspect they had the best lawyers and they found a little gap and went through the middle,” Davies says. 

Property magnate and group spokesman John Martin says family silver has been sold off on the sly. 

“We simply won’t stand by and allow this as a precedent. It’s wrong for strategic community assets and equity to be dealt with like this – everyone should be disturbed,” he says. 

“It may be that this deal needs to be undone.” 

QAC directors drove the deal, Martin alleges, “after many months of seduction by AIA”. He accuses QLDC of taking “a hands-off role”. 

Davies says it’s the equity sell-off which concerns him, – he’d have supported a strategic alliance without the share sale. As mayor, Davies snapped up the Government’s 40 per cent stake in Queenstown Airport in the late 1980s – he only paid $3 or $4 million, he recalls. 

“After years of blood, sweat and tears by many local directors in building up this asset, we were the only major New Zealand airport totally owned by a local authority. 

“The financial investment the council’s got in the airport is very, very small – ever since that time [growth has been funded by] internal borrowing and through airport operations with the express idea of increasing the value of the asset.” 

Martin’s group put their concerns to mayor Clive Geddes and council boss Debra Lawson on Monday – and got a good hearing, Martin says. QLDC has agreed to a standstill on the option of selling the further 10 per cent pending a review of the entire deal, he claims. 

“They’ve indicated that if the deal’s wrong, they’ll fix it.”

 

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