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Bird's eye: An aerial view of Queenstown Airport, looking towards Frankton and Lake Wakatipu

A former councillor says Queenstown’s council has a legal duty to take charge of its airport’s future direction.

Cath Gilmour argues that councillors’ controversial recent 6-to-5 vote to “receive” Queenstown Airport Corporation’s statement of intent (SOI), on condition it take council’s and the community’s concerns on-board, is “relatively mean-ingless”.

According to legal advice she’s received, including from a senior QC, the council’s resolution “incorrectly” suggests it is the airport company that should decide how to meet those concerns.

Under the Local Government Act (LGA), she says the council’s now in the driver’s seat as majority owner because it did not “agree” to the SOI.

“The challenge is now for our councillors to step up and take charge of the process, as required by the legislation.”

The LGA requires the council to modify the SOI “as soon as practicable”, Gilmour says.

As 75.01 per cent shareholder, it can require QAC to modify the SOI to meet the council’s strategic objectives for the company – and QAC must comply.

She’s calling on the council to pass a resolution at its next meeting, on August 8, to set out what direction it wants the QAC to take.

She notes that several councillors, including even two who voted to “receive” the SOI, spoke at the meeting of their disappointment with the airport company’s response to community and council concerns over expansion plans for both the Queenstown and Wanaka airports.

Queenstowners’ concerns were first aired last year when 92.5 per cent of submitters opposed QAC plans to extend noise boundaries so it could more than double aircraft movements.

Gilmour says councillors speaking on June 27 made it very clear they weren’t happy with QAC’s almost complete lack of response to community concerns, let alone the council’s own instructions during the SOI consultation process in March/April.

But she believes some councillors might have felt pressured when mayor Jim Boult told them they had to “receive” the SOI, albeit pending further discussion, before July 1.

“His assertion is not true in law.”

She’s urging councillors pass a resolution on August 8 insisting QAC study alternatives to extending Queenstown’s airport and enlarging Wanaka’s.

These could include capping passenger numbers, relocating Queenstown’s airport and collaborating more with Dunedin’s and Invercargill’s airports.

Gilmour says QAC could also be ordered to give greater weight to preserving communities’ social values, social licence for tourism and climate change mitigation – especially as councillors unanimously declared a climate change emergency at the same meeting.

She also notes that under the law governing council-controlled organisations, like QAC, councils don’t have to prioritise profit-making over other objectives.

Gilmour emailed Boult and councillors with her concerns this Monday.

Boult is on holiday overseas this week.

Naell Crosby-Roe says it’s told Gilmour the council’s way of acknowledging the SOI had “satisfied the requirements of the LGA”.

“We have also confirmed that the SOI can be modified at any time during the life cycle of the SOI, which is in keeping with the resolution made at the June 27 council meeting.”

Council boss Mike Theelen says “contrary to Ms Gilmour’s assertions, the council is well informed as to the purpose of the SOI and the matters within its control as a shareholder of QAC, and going forward the councillors will consider the changes to the SOI that they consider are necessary (if any), and follow the appropriate process to ensure those changes are made”.

“We are confident this matter has been properly reported to council, and we will be following up with QAC as anticipated by the resolution.”

scoop@scene.co.nz