The gloves are off as Boult responds to airport concerns

Pictured: Mayor Jim Boult and WSG’s Michael Ross face off in a public battle over Wanaka’s airport development.

You are “scaremongering” was one of the many comebacks published in a letter from Mayor Jim Boult to Michael Ross of the Wanaka Stakeholders Group (WSG). It was a cutting letter —  bordering on caustic — in response to the open letter that WSG had addressed to Minister Shane Jones. 

“The case for Wānaka has been clearly predicated on local demand, demand for a service that was there from the point Air New Zealand withdrew flights from the area. Since then the population growth of the Upper Clutha has increased the volume of domestic demand and it is eminently logical that the community should seek to provide for that,” said Boult. 

But domestic demand for domestic flights has never been the issue; the WSG has stated many times that it is only international jet flights that the group opposes. 

Boult’s defense of the airport’s development included, “let’s not forget that we all have family, whānau and friends throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, and I don’t believe I am alone in seeing the benefit to the community of access to a local airport to maintain those connections easily. The number of passengers out of Queenstown who are Wānaka domiciled attests to the growing demand for such services and most communities (indeed like Wānaka following the loss of scheduled services) would actually welcome this opportunity.”

But a spend of $300 - $400 million just so grandma can visit has been met with skepticism by members of Protect Wanaka, whose membership is now over 1500. Wanaka has a population of 8,900 according to the Dept of Statistics. Other towns with roughly the same population include: Gore, Waiuku, Waiheke Island, Greymouth, Motueka, Te Puke Community, and Huntly. None of these towns have their own personal airports in development. Even if the broader Wanaka District population of 12,300 was used, the comparative towns are Oamaru and Hawera; neither of which have a hope of getting a jet-capable airport so their grandmas can visit. The only conclusion from this, is that this has nothing to do with friends and family and everything to do with increasing the district’s capacity for tourism. 

Boult continued, “we have previously advised you in correspondence, the role of Wānaka Airport as a complementary facility to Queenstown as part of a dual model was clearly signalled in the 2016 consultation. The QAC continues to engage with the community on what the ultimate model could look like and continued attempts to pre-empt the outcome of that community consultation undermines the integrity of that process. Your group’s ongoing rhetoric about the potential number of passenger movements reaching three million as an overflow from Queenstown are both unfounded and misleading.”

In response, Ross said “We are not anti growth, and we wholeheartedly support the important place that Wanaka has in the southern lakes tourism mix. We fully support the existing general aviation activities at our Wanaka Airport and would welcome the redevelopment of a new terminal to service local demand and turbo prop services as we enjoyed previously. 

“But to suggest that we take the next leap to a fully jet-capable airport with all the significant ancillary services that would be needed to support that $400m development is currently a step too far. To get this “dual airport” project — as currently proposed — over the line for the Upper Clutha community will require a much more inclusive community consultation. Regrettably this has not happened. If it had been done properly — we wouldn’t be having this dialogue now.

“Your letter is full of bluster. Despite a number of assurances to the Wanaka Community, those assurances have absolutely no detail behind them. Each time we've asked for substantive information, directly or via public forums, our requests have been declined by you and your colleagues.”

Ross concludes, “Quite frankly Jim, your letter shows once and for all the failure of QLDC to consult with the Wanaka community meaningfully, and you clearly have no intention to do so in the future.” 

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Letter to Michael Ross of the Wanaka Stakeholders Group, from Mayor Jim Boult. 

Dear Michael

RE: LETTER TO HON. SHANE JONES, MINISTER FOR REGIONAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT 

Thank you for sharing with my fellow councillors and I a copy of your letter of 22 July to Minister Jones. I am prompted to respond directly to you on a number of comments that you made within this correspondence that are inaccurate. 

You continue to align any concept of developing the Wānaka airport with tourism and personal predictions of over-tourism in the Upper Clutha. I can understand for those who see any increase in tourism as detrimental to their lifestyle that proposed commercial flights might create some anxiety, though at present most tourists manage to find Wānaka by car anyway. However by any objective measure Wānaka is at little risk of over tourism and to connect the two matters I would suggest is simply scaremongering. The case for Wānaka has been clearly predicated on local demand, demand for a service that was there from the point Air New Zealand withdrew flights from the area. Since then the population growth of the Upper Clutha has increased the volume of domestic demand and it is eminently logical that the community should seek to provide for that. I do not deny that some tourists might choose to fly into Wānaka via Auckland or Christchurch in preference to driving. It would be wise to remember that each time we travel somewhere else we are also visitors in those destinations, or perhaps you speak for the people who never travel. 

Queenstown Lakes is the fastest growing district in the country and is one of the government’s recognised high-growth areas under its Urban Growth Agenda. Managing that growth and ensuring the community is well placed to absorb that is a key responsibility of Council. Increasingly, connectivity is a major foundation in any community’s future wellbeing. The airports across the district are strategic pieces of infrastructure and timely investment in these is important to support the economic and social wellbeing of residents, businesses, and visitors alike. This district has seen the effects of a lack of investment in the past and is committed to ensuring that is not repeated. Your suggestion that this investment in the district’s prosperity is somehow inconsistent with the government’s regional growth agenda is unfortunately fanciful. 

Equally your endeavour to connect the visitor levy and the airport development is wrong. The Council has pursued the visitor levy to ensure that as we invest in our community that the costs of that investment are fairly shared between the community and visitors. This principle has been well understood by government and there is incredible support across the community for this. Our airports are commercial entities and therefore will need to fund and consider their development based on their commercial decisions 

Finally, let’s not forget that we all have family, whānau and friends throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, and I don’t believe I am alone in seeing the benefit to the community of access to a local airport to maintain those connections easily. The number of passengers out of Queenstown who are Wānaka domiciled attests to the growing demand for such services and most communities (indeed like Wānaka following the loss of scheduled services) would actually welcome this opportunity. 

These views regarding the benefit to the economy and the community were reflected in feedback gained independently by organisations such as Ignite Wānaka (Chamber of Commerce) and the Hāwea Community Association. Both of which saw general support for the reintroduction of flights, as did the work by Shaping our Future. The decision by Council to lease Wānaka Airport to QAC in 2017 provided a commercially sound way to support those objectives and to ensure that there was an integrated approach to air service development across the district for the benefit of all. 

As previously advised, that consultation clearly anticipated further development of Wānaka, with a view to returning commercial services to the facility, and the restoration (and development) of a level of service that matched demand for services 

To your other points, I need to refute your assertion and state that this Council is not encouraging the Queenstown Airport Corporation to “fly in the face of national policy”; in contrast it is actively investing into regional diversification, economic development, as well as supporting the Government’s Tourism strategy . I think it is equally wrong to state that this Council is “pushing the dual airport business plan”. Unless one subscribes to the view that each local authority is entitled to only “one” airport, which bears no scrutiny, then what we will own is a view that an integrated service meeting consumer needs is indeed something we are supportive of. As has previously been raised with your group we see this as a preference to competing companies in the same region, each operating airport in furious competition with each other. Once again you have missed the point that there is already an airport at Wānaka, it has had commercial services in the past and there is a strong case for these to be returned in the future; our role is to facilitate that in a sound and robust way. 

To put it another way, as we have previously advised you in correspondence, the role of Wānaka Airport as a complementary facility to Queenstown as part of a dual model was clearly signalled in the 2016 consultation. The QAC continues to engage with the community on what the ultimate model could look like and continued attempts to pre-empt the outcome of that community consultation undermines the integrity of that process. Your Group’s ongoing rhetoric about the potential number of passenger movements reaching three million as an overflow from Queenstown are both unfounded and misleading. 

I would also dispute your claim that the Council has not appropriately exercised its functions as owner. The Statement of Intent process is our mechanism for providing a strategic direction and this has been openly debated in public forum and we have made a commitment to keep developing this in line with the requests from the elected members. I also consider that the company has a strong Board with the ability to deliver on those strategic intentions, and does not want or need politicians interfering in the operational management and functions of the company. The intent of a Council Controlled Trading organisation is very clear and while the Council remains the ultimate owner it needs to remain focused at the strategic level and allow the company to perform its commercial duties appropriately. 

Your requests for a copy of the lease for Wānaka Airport have been declined in line with reasons for withholding the information under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987, which you have been advised of in writing. 

Finally, I do agree with your closing statement that “we cannot afford to get these decisions wrong”. This is why we continue to provide strategic direction to the QAC via the Statement of Intent and Letter of Expectation, we will work through amendments to that Statement as per our public commitment and resolution, and we will allow the QAC to undertake the comprehensive community engagement and masterplanning process that they have committed to. We will also not shy away from making the right decisions for the best long term future of the district and its current and future communities and ensure that the continued development of the core air service infrastructure is matched to the communities’ ongoing development. 

Yours sincerely 

Jim Boult ONZM MAYOR 

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Response from Michael Ross of Wanaka Stakeholders Group

Dear Jim 

Thank you for your detailed letter. 

We are deeply disappointed at your response, which we note is your first public response to Wanaka Stakeholders Group in the 10 months we have been asking to be involved in consultation around the proposed redevelopment of Wanaka Airport. We note that it takes a letter to government ministers, including the Prime Minister, to actually elicit a public response from you. On the up side, at least you have responded at last. So thank you for that. 

We are not anti growth, and we wholeheartedly support the important place that Wanaka has in the southern lakes tourism mix. We fully support the existing general aviation activities at our Wanaka Airport and would welcome the redevelopment of a new terminal to service local demand and turbo prop services as we enjoyed previously. 

But to suggest that we take the next leap to a fully jet capable airport with all the significant ancillary services that would be needed to support that $400m development is currently a step too far. To get this “dual airport” project - as currently proposed - over the line for the Upper Clutha community will require a much more inclusive community consultation. Regrettably this has not happened. If it had been done properly - we wouldn’t be having this dialogue now. The consultation needs to be driven not by QAC - but by the very Council who represents us and owns 75% of this CCTO. 

Your letter is full of bluster. Despite a number of assurances to the Wanaka Community, those assurances have absolutely no detail behind them. Each time we've asked for substantive information, directly or via public forums, our requests have been declined by you and your colleagues. So how can we have any confidence that there is any legitimate basis for your assurances? 

For example, despite numerous requests for ongoing details of the lease agreement between QLDC and QAC in relation to Wanaka Airport, you have flatly refused to disclose this. This is a 100 year lease which defines and shapes how a community asset can be used, yet the very community which owns the asset has no idea of the conditions contained in that important document. In the 2016 Statement of Proposal, it was stated that "the Council would retain ultimate control of the direction of the airport through mechanisms retained in the lease and, because QAC is a CCTO, through the Letter of Expectation/Statement of Intent process. The council involvement through these means would provide a way in which the Wanaka community could continue to have a say in the future direction of the airport." Thus, the lease is a 

web: protectwanaka.nz // Letter to Jim Boult - 310719 - Page 1 of 3 

fundamental element in the consultative process and without transparency around the terms of the lease, how on earth can you claim to have consulted with, or been open to, the community affected? 

Quite frankly Jim, your letter shows once and for all the failure of QLDC to consult with the Wanaka community meaningfully, and you clearly have no intention to do so in the future. The consultation processes you refer to have been largely delegated to QAC, and their efforts have been inadequate, misleading and selective. 

Our member base of 1,500 people, and growing by the hour, are feeling completely unheard, disenfranchised and bypassed. Our members are saying to us that they just will not just let this happen to the Upper Clutha community. 

We are optimistic that at your next meeting, our elected representatives will demonstrate to us that they are hearing the concerns from across the district on QAC’s failings with the proposed Statement of Intent. Thus far - it has to be said - QLDC has failed to assert its important influence in setting the strategic direction of QAC. For example, the noise boundary issue in Queenstown. So how can we have any confidence that our Council will take the upper hand in considering the needs of our community against the commercial imperatives of QAC, and doing what is right for our future? 

We do not intend to answer the specifics in your letter today, but we certainly will do at the appropriate time. 

We look forward to seeing you and your councillors at your full Council meeting in Wanaka next week. 

Yours sincerely 

Michael Ross Chair, Wanaka Stakeholders Group Inc. 


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