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Wanaka Airport. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON

Debate over Wanaka’s airport took a significant turn last week when the Wanaka Stakeholders Group (WSG) filed for a judicial review of what it says are “unlawful” decisions surrounding the future of the Wanaka facility. In excerpts from a Q and A with the group, The News looks at some of the issues and what happens next.

Q What’s the problem?

Without consulting the Upper Clutha community, in 2018 Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) effectively transferred ownership and control of Wanaka Airport to Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC), to develop it and operate it as the corporation sees fit. It is perfectly clear that QAC will extend and develop Wanaka Airport into an airport which is capable of taking significant numbers of jet aircraft.

Q How do you know the community doesn’t want this?

We know that thousands of members of the community don’t want this. We (WSG) represent over 3000 members, and our membership is growing.

Q What are the details of your case?

What has been done by QLDC and QAC in relation to transferring to QAC – via the so-called “lease” and side agreements – ownership and control of Wanaka Airport with some related control of the future of Project Pure, both strategic assets owned by the community, was in breach of the Local Government Act and was therefore unlawful.

We are seeking orders from the High Court declaring that to be the position and setting aside the lease and any side agreements relating to the development of Wanaka Airport. If QLDC remain of the view that such decisions should be made, then we will be seeking court orders requiring QLDC to go back to square one and to consult properly and lawfully in all respects with the communities most directly affected, in particular communities of Wanaka and the Upper Clutha.

Q Can WSG afford to pay for this legal action?

WSG represents a very large proportion of the community and we have been clear at every step that this could be a reasonably long battle. 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.

Q Why don’t you just try talking to the QLDC and QAC to resolve this?

Our efforts to resolve this before we issued proceedings are a matter of record. We are willing at any time before we go to court to talk to QAC and QLDC to resolve this if we can. The court proceedings should provide a context where both QAC and QLDC give a candid and accurate account to the court of all that has occurred. Against that fully transparent backdrop, we may yet see a path to resolving this which is acceptable to all concerned.

Q Are you anti-growth or anti-development?

Wanaka is already in a rapid growth mode. We have no doubt that this will continue. What we don’t want is unmanaged growth which is driven by the agenda of an airport company simply maximising its returns by flooding the Upper Clutha and the Queenstown Lakes district with visitors. We do not want the same problems that other tourism hotspots around the world, including in Queenstown, have had to endure.

We are not anti-growth, anti-tourism, anti-business or anti-development.