Wanaka Airport will be leased to Queenstown Airport Corporation, the Queenstown Lakes District Council has decided today.
The unanimous decision was made by a full council meeting at the Lake Hawea Community Centre, and heralds a new era of airport management where Wanaka Airport would be a “complementary and supplementary” airport to Queenstown’s international airport.
However, several councillors voiced concerns about the potential to lose community input into airport management and urged mayor Jim Boult and chief executive Mike Theelan to negotiate terms that would address similar concerns raised during public submissions.
Boult and Theelan have been authorised to negotiate the lease with the corporation and ensure the corporation’s statement of intent is amended to include Wanaka Airport.
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Wanaka councillor Ross McRobie said the statement of intent needed to protect the interests and rights of existing Wanaka Airport users.
“I think it is important to ensure they are protected. The lease document needs to be very detailed. From the hearings, it was clear the chief executive of Queenstown Airport Corporation wanted strong partnership with the community. I would like to see those things strengthened, or ensure they are in the document,” McRobie said.
Arrowtown councillor Scott Stevens agreed, urging special consideration for Warbirds Over Wanaka Airshow, which had grown from the history of airport developer Sir Tim Wallis.
The event was “something quite special and unique” and the lease needed to recognise that, Stevens said.
Deputy mayor Calum MacLeod, of Wanaka, said he believed the general feeling was the lease was ” the right thing to do”.
However, the detail in the statement of intent would be important and the council had a chance to influence that, he said.
“You need to embrace that tool as a way of getting the desired effect. Endorse one district, two airports, complementary and supplementary. But supplementary probably needs a bit more discussion,” MacLeod said.
Wanaka councillor Ella Lawton said the council had an opportunity to show leadership in negotiating the statement of intent.
“We have heard clearly from the community what they want to happen at the airport. Ultimately we have the final word and if the board of QAC are not stepping up to that, we can be quite heavy handed. The community needs to hold us to that,” Lawton said.
One of the main concerns was the 33 year term. It was not known what future councils would be like and the airport needed to address the social and economic wellbeing of the community, Lawton said.
Boult said he believed the corporation was embarking on negotiations with “the right attitude” and building the asset with local and wider district interests in mind.
“The lease document is where the teeth will be . . . but who knows what will happen in 10 years time,” Boult said.
He agreed the council’s expectations needed to be very clear.
“We do own 75 percent and can exercise a high degree of control over QAC,” Boult said.
The Wanaka Chamber of Commerce said in a newsletter if the lease went ahead, it expected to be included in any work on an airport development plan.
Corporation chairman John Gilks described the decision as a “momentous occasion” for the future of the region.
The decision was “just the first step in the process” and the corporation would work with the council on the lease terms and engage with the community “to develop an airport at Wanaka that we can all be proud of well into the future”.
“Throughout the consultation process led by council, we’ve listened to the communities we serve and we’re looking forward to having conversations to ensure the future economic development of Wanaka is strong and sustainable,” he said.
Gilks noted Wanaka’s strong aviation history, pioneering spirit and heritage.
“Only by genuinely understanding the past, can we build a sustainable future,” he said.
The corporation’s annual statement of intent outlines strategic goals and objectives for the next three years and is submitted to the council for input before it is finalised.
Law firm Meredith Connell provided advice to the council about ways the lease could include opportunities for community engagement and communication.
It also addressed issues with the statement of intent.
However, the legal advice was considered with the public excluded, to maintain legal professional privilege.
Theelan said in a report the financial implications of leasing Wanaka Airport would be known once the lease terms were completed.
“The expectation is that the council’s financial position will be no worse than its current position and over time will improve as a result of these arrangements,” he said.
The lease was of high significance because Wanaka Airport was a strategic asset, with economic, social and reputational risks.
The main risk perceived by the Wanaka Airport Hearing Panel was that a lease could reduce the level of community engagement in the airport’s future direction.
“A number of submitters raised concerns around the ongoing coordination of recreational activity and the potential increase in commercial activity under any governance model, but especially under a model that introduced an increased level of commercial practice into the airport’s governance,” Theelan said.