It was a case of community 2, Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) nil, today in Queenstown’s Council Chambers. Item 1 was Queenstown Airport Corporation’s Statement of Intent (SOI) – the SOI sets the objectives for the Airport Corporation, 75.01% of which is owned by QLDC.
Council Chambers was bursting at the seams and anticipation was high. Public forum offered up a string of passionate speeches, a prophetic image, and a goose bump inducing ballad for the finale. Thank you Craig Smith.
The decision that followed was riveting stuff; QAC held its ground, the Mayor tried to calm doubts, and the councillors’ comments weren’t promising. We were glum. But then Alexa unleashed (at her absolute best), Penny at the last minute proposed a motion to get rid of “all the stuff about growth” and Quentin, in a stroke of genius, requested that each point within the motion be voted on separately. And then to everyone’s surprise the ‘’Nos” were dropped like dominos. And the crowd went wild. Almost unbelievably, QLDC’s councillors had made the decision to, once again, not accept QAC’s draft Statement of Intent with its ‘we will grow to meet demand’ objectives.
It was the right decision and it feels like a battlefield victory – in the middle of a war.
What next? Both communities have repeatedly and convincingly stated they don’t want more international flights, more noise, more tourists, more pollution. We recognise that a $400 million airport expansion will mean massive debt that will, at best, lock us into tourism growth and at worst could lose us control of QAC and our future direction. Successful profitable businesses can operate within growth boundaries – it just depends on how we define success. Right now, success means meeting social and environmental bottom lines that can’t be achieved with expansion and growth in numbers.
So now the question is will they stop playing hot potato with this SOI – will QLDC have the gumption to take charge and direct the Airport Corporation as it is required to by law? To comply, the council must draft a resolution to amend the SOI in line with the aspirations of the community, consult the QAC Board, then give notice and require it to comply. It’s as simple as that – the consultation’s been done and QLDC has the mandate to stop any expansion.
But there should be another motion carried at the next meeting: that the community be consulted on the terms of reference for the economic and social assessments QLDC has agreed to commission.
The Mayor’s suggestion that neither the community nor the council should have input on the TORs just gives substance to the argument that these assessments are merely a way to get around community opposition and straight back to growth. Without a mandate from the community on those TORs, the assessments will be meaningless and the battle to protect this place will continue.