Top lawyers get heavy on aero club

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High-flying Auckland lawyers are trying to clip the Wakatipu Aero Club’s wings.

Meredith Connell, representing the Queenstown council and Queenstown Airport Corporation, has told the club their clients will seek to recover any legal costs in defending their position.

QAC, majority-owned by the council, won’t renew the club’s airport lease when it expires on June 30.

It will help it relocate its commercial arm, Air Wakatipu, elsewhere on the airfield but wants its flight training operation to move to Wanaka.

Club president Adrian Snow says it relinquished its lease three years before it expired on the basis it would be shifted to a new general aviation area.

That’s been held up, however, due to the airport’s long-running dispute with neighbouring developer Remarkables Park.

“We are ultimately seeking to have the last three years reinstated as per the original lease.

“I think we would have a huge likelihood of getting it despite all the legal posturing.”

Snow says he’s quite flattered to receive a letter from heavyweight Auckland lawyers.

“It’s the elephant and the flea - there’s only so far they can sue us.

“We’re a bones-of-the-arse community organisation that possibly has to sue a council-controlled organisation – it all seems crazy, unproductive.”

Having “an expensive” Auckland-based lawyer write to it seems overkill, Snow says – “it is ridiculous, what is wrong with our local solicitors?”

Local lawyer Revell Buckham, a former aero club committee member who spoke at this week’s council meeting, says: “Notwithstanding what that letter said, we’ve never threatened litigation.

“What we’ve said was we believe we have some legal redress.”

QAC chief executive Scott Paterson says the threat to sue for costs only pops up in the last paragraph of the Meredith Connell letter: “That’s not an unusual comment.”

He defends using an Auckland firm: “Well, [council boss] Adam [Feeley] – the council – has the relationship, but we use Auckland lawyers, Wellington architects, Dunedin accountants.

“We use [lawyers] Lane Neave locally, Anderson Lloyd locally.

“We sought advice from someone we felt was well-qualified to give the advice.”

Feeley questions Snow’s basis for claiming Meredith Connell is an expensive law firm.

“Two things determine price – hourly rate and time taken to do a job.

“A third factor determines value – quality of legal advice and outcome.

“All the law firms we use – both local (two) and from elsewhere (two) – have met our requirements in this regard.

“It is then a question of ‘horses for courses’ when a particular issue arises.

“Both QAC and Queenstown Lakes District Council agreed that Meredith Connell were the right firm for the various legal issues that have been raised in this case.

“I fail to understand what concern it is for Wakatipu Aero Club who we use.”

Buckham, meanwhile, disputes Meredith Connell’s statement that the club’s reliance on safety and the provision of pilot training to justify its retention is misplaced – and that this is a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority.

“Aviation safety is an issue for all our community and it is incomprehensible that our council and what is effectively our airport choose to deny any significant responsibility for safety issues and pursue commercial interests only.”

scoop@scene.co.nz