OPINION: Don’t leave us in the dark

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David Mayhew is chair of theKelvin Peninsula CommunityAssociation

OPINION: So, where are we with the Queenstown council’s dealings with the airport which have proved to be troublesome recently.

At their meeting on June 27, councillors resolved to hold further discussions with Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) about the council’s and the community’s concerns and expected directions over the future development of Queenstown and Wanaka airports.

Since then matters have gone behind closed doors; apparently a workshop was to take place this week.

With no scrutiny by the public as to who attends such discussions and what is said, we can only speculate about the outcome.

The portends are not encouraging.

At the council meeting in March, when considering QAC’s draft Statement of Intent (SOI) – the corporate document in which QAC sets out publicly its activities and intentions for the year and the objectives to which those activities will contribute – councillors commented that greater recognition should be given to “the community’s lack of enthusiasm for any form of expansion”.

The QAC board must have considered those comments and decided to ignore them, because they were not mentioned in the completed SOI received by council in June.

That version baldly states that QAC is “a demand-driven … business” which must plan to “provide for increased levels of demand at both airports over a 30-year horizon”.

This will involve “a gradual, phased development at each airport to meet forecast natural demand from both residents and visitors“.

The immediate plan for Queenstown is to expand the current terminal which will require “some expansion to the current noise and land boundaries”. (Noise boundaries set the limits for the number of aircraft movements into and out of the airport.) This is directly counter to the concerns expressed by the community during consultation last year over noise boundaries: 92.5 per cent opposed QAC’s expansion plans.

For Wanaka, QAC’s current plan is “the development of a regional airport to enable scheduled domestic services from approximately 2025”.

But the predicted volume of services is worryingly vague: “a handful of such services operated by turbo-prop and narrow-body jet aircraft at the start and for several years thereafter in line with demand

Wanaka residents deserve greater clarity given the dual airport model promoted by QAC (“two airports, one airport company”). If growth at Queenstown is to be constrained, that model implies rapid expansion of jet flights into Wanaka.

So, the issues could not be clearer; nor could the importance of transparency of the dialogue between the council, as the people’s representative body, and QAC, the council’s organisation. Although QAC is a corporate business, it is controlled by council which owns 75.01 per cent of it.

The councillors must, therefore, front up and state publicly what modifications they require to QAC’s objectives and to the nature and scope of the activities QAC proposes to undertake over the next 12 months.

This they should do at their next full public council meeting next Thursday.

for example, is a clear recognition that QAC must manage its business at Queenstown Airport within the existing noise boundaries and not plan for continuous growth there.

What the implications of such modifications of QAC’s plans would be for its business going forward are for the QAC board to determine, subject to any other directions from the council.

Modified plans may include diverting airline demand to other South Island airports and considering alternative locations for its business, whether at Wanaka Airport, as currently proposed, or elsewhere in Central Otago.

This is an election year. Discussions behind closed doors, particularly if they involve council staff rather than councillors themselves, remove the community’s ability to check councillors are representing its views over airport growth.

While an important requirement of a healthy local democracy at any time, accountability is particularly crucial at election time.