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Queenstown Airport Corporation Statement of Intent – the clock is ticking

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

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There is no time to lose. Queenstown airport is within 3 years (depending on tourism slowdown) of reaching its noise boundaries.  The Queenstown community has unequivocally said NO to any expansion of those boundaries. Wanaka appears similarly opposed to expansion at its airport. Yet, a third version of the Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) Statement of Intent (SOI) which Queenstown Lakes District Council will consider tomorrow (August 26), attempts to ‘push pause’ on its development plans while further reports and plans are considered.

The airport has known since last August that it has no community support for noise boundary extension in Queenstown, (Wanaka views are not as well surveyed yet – more on that below).  Yet in the year that has passed, the airport has failed to come up with any alternative strategic direction to its two airport growth strategy.  It is now reliant on a market slow down to give it some time to figure out what happens next and how it might mollify its communities.

In March, as a councillor, I expected to receive an SOI which addressed how it would cope with the constraint of its noise boundaries in Queenstown and rising community opposition to airport growth in Wanaka. I had some of my own ideas and looked forward to innovative and creative solutions that would take us forward as community, maybe partner with neighbours and certainly give genuine consideration to environmental concerns. But no such thinking came our way.  The first version was little more than business as usual and was rightfully sent back for revision from Council. Version two, is covered in my earlier blog. This third version, while much shorter, is still noise boundary in Queenstown and jet capability in Wanaka focused and so has still failed to address the fundamental issues of the first.

It was suggested to me that ‘many people wanted to see expansion but were afraid to say so’.  My answer is; arguing anecdotes isn’t helpful. Giving voice to the facts is:

  1. The airport’s own August 2018 survey – 95% opposition to noise bounday expansion (1500 responses). A result described by Mountain Scene as ‘staggering’ and a ‘shockingly low level of support’. Here is the airport’s full report on its consultation.

  2. Crux survey. 84% against any further expansion to noise boundaries.

  3. 82% of 1294 respondents to a Frankton Community Association survey responded negatively to the Queenstown Airport’s expansion proposals.

  4. 75% of 149 people who took part at two Wanaka workshops and online were supportive of scheduled services being reintroduced to the town’s airport.

  5. Lobby groups, Queenstown Stakeholders Group, Protect Wanaka, Protect Queenstown and Flightplan 2050  have sprung up in opposition to the airport’s expansion plans.

  6. Queenstown Stakeholders Group –36 signatories  including schools, big and small businesses and all seven local community associations. The submission opposes any extension to noise boundaries and says 12,000 people and 80% of track and trail amenity would be affected by the then proposal.

  7. The Wanaka Stakeholders (aka Protect Wanaka – claim: 2500 members) are  threatening judicial review  saying council is in ‘breach of the act’.

  8. QLDC Quality of Life Survey 2018 shows 63% of respondents unhappy with growth and 75% worried about climate change.

  9. Public Health Office Marion Poore has warned against increased noise boundaries at the Queenstown airport with data about the health impacts of noise.

There is plenty here to draw the conclusion that Queenstown has no appetite at all for any extension of noise boundaries while Wanaka may well be happy with the reintroduction of scheduled air services and some increase in visitor numbers, but looks increasingly unhappy to play host to any overspill from Queenstown.

There is plenty in these numbers to direct the airport to go back and urgently produce a plan that excludes noise boundary extension, has a meaningful discussion with Wanaka, and most importantly, looks at how a new approach will respect the views of the Lakes District community.

Read on for further thoughts, considerations, background and links to add context:

It is difficult for community lobby groups to maintain momentum and commit funds to legal challenges, but opposition in both towns has been in place for a year and continues to grow rather than subside. In my view, this opposition reflects a loss of trust in the airport to consider the aspirations of its main owner, the community, and a loss of trust in the Council to act in the community’s best interests as expressed and defined by the community and council planning processes.

A request for an independent survey for Upper Clutha was declined on the grounds of airport decisions needing to be district wide.

I was at the meeting at a Kelvin Peninsula Golf Club in September 2018 when the Queenstown Stakeholders Group formed – an interesting, but comprehensive mix of residential communities and tourism businesses – asking council to consider growth with ‘genuine community based consultation’. The spokesperson for that group, and now council candidate, Glyn Lewers stated in the group’s press release that:

“The Airport’s intention …to focus first on expanding Wanaka airport, is not an appropriate alternative to having a strategic, district-wide plan, in the views of the QSG,” 

Nearly a year later, and this is exactly what is happening and now Wanaka has its own stakeholders’ group which is increasingly unhappy at being seen as the potential overflow receptacle for Queenstown Airport.

I was also at the biggest ever Frankton Community Association meeting in August which was informed with presentation from an RMA lawyer, the Medical Director of Public Health and Destination Queenstown and where people overwhelmingly opposed any expansion to the noise boundaries.

Why is our Council not responding to all of this with a clear directive to the airport through the SOI to find another way? To look to other airports in the wider southern region to pick up some of the load?  To respect the community and business view that further expansion would put at serious risk both community and visitor amenity?  Is the airport not listening? Are our staff not translating the requests for change?

I believe the community feels stood over instead of stood with. I expect a huge public forum at Monday’s meeting.  I am concerned that people in our community are spending huge time, money and energy on getting us to say a firm and permanent no to noise boundaries in Queenstown, and no to the perceived Wanaka plans.

Wearyingly, I reiterate my key points of concern in the current SOI presented.

  1. As in previous versions, this version is carefully worded to skirt responsibility to community and community wellbeing.

  2. As in previous versions, the situational overview intentionally ignores the community feedback received in the Queenstown master planning process, and entirely ignores the opposition from the Wanaka community (currently measured through a lobby group in the absence of completed consultation)

  3. As in previous versions, this SOI has unsubstantiated, loaded, non-independent opinions about the consequences of constraining airport growth (more road transport, less flight choice, more expensive flights) and no reference at all to the well referenced independent opinions about, for example Community Health.

  4. As in previous versions, this SOI swerves around putting a lid on noise boundaries Again, why can we not get a plan to run a profitable airport within current boundaries.

  5. The strategic direction is entirely unclear.  I want to know straight-up what the direction is for the next three years.

A Crux article refers to tomorrow’s meeting as a ‘showdown’ and ‘defining moment’ for our Mayor and this council.  Best we get it right.

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