Wānaka Stakeholders Group Inc. announced yesterday that it has filed judicial review proceedings in the High Court.
Their claim is centred around a view that decisions made by Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) “to transfer substantial ownership and control of Wānaka Airport to Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC), on the grounds that those decisions were both unlawful and unreasonable.”
WSG Chair, Michael Ross, said yesterday that the contents of the lease of Wānaka Airport to QAC, which was only disclosed to the community by the Mayor during the last days of the election campaign, are “disturbing”.
“The only responsible step we can now take having seen the content of the lease is to proceed with legal action. The “lease” is, to all intents and purposes, a sale to QAC, with QAC having the right to build and operate a substantial jet-capable airport, and QAC clearly intends to do just that. The lease even gives up elements of control to QAC in respect of the future development of Wānaka’s sewerage treatment plant, Project Pure, another strategic asset of the community.”
"An intention to transfer such substantial ownership and control, and QAC’s intention to build such a jet capable airport were never disclosed to the community during the so-called ‘consultation’ and in the related Statement of Proposal back in 2016 – 2017. The Wānaka and Upper Clutha communities have never been properly consulted by the Council prior to the disposal to QAC of the community’s 100 percent publicly owned strategic asset. The future development and location of Project Pure was certainly never mentioned.”
Mr Ross said that promises of “consultation” after the event by QAC or QLDC are irrelevant to the lack of original compliance with the prohibitions and consultation obligations of QLDC and QAC under the Local Government Act, and such recent promises of consultation are wholly inadequate to retrieve the situation."
“It’s time to challenge QLDC's processes and QAC's effective acquisition of Wānaka Airport. It’s time to ensure that we get proper, lawful and fully informed community consultation. This should happen before anything is done by QLDC to give up full ownership and control of Wānaka Airport. What has been unlawfully done should first be undone.”
“It is regrettable that we have to take this step. However, it is also totally necessary in the circumstances, particularly in the light of the lack of any satisfactory responses from both QLDC and QAC to WSG and other community groups over the past year.”
Sara Irvine, general manager corporate and community affairs for QAC said, “We understand that WSG is in the course of filing proceedings for judicial review with the High Court. Given that the matter is, or will soon be, before the courts we will not provide comment at this stage.”
The WSG stated, “We would not bring judicial review proceedings unless we believed we had good grounds to do so and therefore a significant prospect of succeeding. We have representation from senior barristers including two Queens Counsel with substantial experience in judicial review matters.” Julian Miles QC, Bob Hollyman QC and Brian Latimour are the barristers chosen to represent the group.
A Judicial Review is not a cheap process to undertake however the WSG confident their financial strategy is as strong as their legal one. “We have a funding strategy in place which includes contributions from members who are willing and able to contribute. We have already raised significant funds, and we will continue to do so. In recent days we’ve also had significant pledges come in.”