In a first for the Wanaka District, the residents associations of Hawea, Luggate, Albert Town and Mt Barker have joined together in singular opposition to the proposed expansion of Wanaka Airport. Their message is directed towards Mayor Jim Boult and Queenstown Lakes District Council, as opposed to Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) based on the simple democratic governance premise that “you represent us, you do not represent QAC”.
Partially in response to Mayor Boult’s letter to the Wanaka Stakeholders Group last week which inflamed the situation, rather than appease, the collective community associations are singular in their reply that no one believes Boult’s claim that the expansion is domestic, for residents, based on demand. In short, it is an egregious falsehood that QAC is going to spend hundreds of millions, just so residents of Wanaka can fly to Christchurch without the hassle of driving over the Crown Range, and hence, Boult’s letter fell on deaf ears.
Jim Cowie, Chair of Albert Town Residents Association said, “If the Mayor is so convinced the people of the Upper Clutha want significant expansion of the airport, then he needs to test his view with the Upper Clutha public by going out and surveying us and seeing what sort of response he will get, and not just have the influence of the business community and the tourism community.”
Chair of the Hawea Community Association (HCA) April Mackenzie said, “We are the communities most affected by this airport and we represent the residents all around this district. It would be a good 3,500 people represented here. And QLDC, which owns 75 percent of QAC is supposed to represent us, the ratepayers.”
Graeme Perkins Chair of the Luggate Community Association said, “we have the approval from all these four associations to make this statement. We are tired of being told what’s best for us, as opposed to listening to us.”
“In the Mt Barker Residents Association (MBRA) meeting in January, we took a vote at our meeting and there was a unanimous vote against airport expansion. Not a single dissenting voice,” said John Coers, deputy chair of the MBRA.
Mackenzie reiterated what the WSG has been saying for months: “If you asked our members ‘would you like scheduled domestic turboprop flights from Wanaka?’ you’ll get a ‘yes’. But if you say, ‘would you like jet planes, with all the environmental impacts, noise, pollution, and traffic?’ they will say ‘no’.”
Cowie also expressed concern over the glaring conflict of interest between QLDC and QAC: “It is an outstanding conflict of interest where they are 75 percent owners of QAC and yet they are meant to be representing us, and reflect our views, but here they have an absolute stake in the success of QAC.” There is also discontent over Boult’s personal conflict of interest as a previous board member of Real Journeys, previous board member of the Civil Aviation Authority and previous CEO of Christchurch Airport: he is comfortable in the aviation and tourism space and hence this guides his judgement calls as mayor, rather than the voices of ratepayers.
Follow the money
One question that has remained unanswered since the issue of airport expansion was first on the horizon, is who is going to pay for it? “QLDC has made it abundantly clear that they’ve got no money. And if we look at the lack of infrastructure and civil works in Wanaka — and Ballantyne Road is a classic example where council said ‘we can’t afford it’, so it begs the question who is going to fund all this?” said Cowie. “Who is providing the money?” asked Mackenzie. “Is it Auckland Airport?” Is it China?
With the land in Queenstown valued at a reported $1.6 billion, there are suggestions that long game is to sell off Queenstown Airport and move all operations to Wanaka. This is only supposition but in lieu of total disclosure and honest consultations, the rumour is beginning to take hold. Mackenzie said, “the land here is twice the size of Queenstown Airport. Where do you think they’re taking this?”
As majority shareholder, QLDC must have insight as to how QAC plans to fund $400 million; as thorough financial forecasts must have been in place before a 100-year lease was signed.
The combined residents associations want QLDC to come clean with the true reason behind the airport expansion, and disclosure over who is paying. They also have one final demand: listen to us!