Thursday, 22nd April, 2021

We are aware of the decision released late yesterday by the High Court ruling the long term lease for Wanaka Airport be "set aside". Below is a comment from Ignite Wanaka Chair Andrew 'Howie' Howard. 

Ignite Wanaka Chair Andrew Howard says: "The decision to reverse the Wanaka Airport lease to QAC will no doubt have an impact on the airport business community in the short term, which can be unsettling in already uncertain times. This is a sensitive subject and we know there are many differing views on how, when and if Wanaka Airport should be developed. However, the decision gives us time as a community to regroup in a post-COVID world.

“The spatial plan will also be a key information source when looking at the future growth of the Upper Clutha and this was an important part of the puzzle when considering our district’s future. Any engagement and discussions around airport growth should also include the implications and impacts of wider strategic issues including population growth, climate response, diversification of our economy and national infrastructure.

“As always, Ignite Wanaka will support our local business community through the subsequent engagement processes and assist with providing all relevant information so people will be able to have a say on the future of our district. We will continue to look at how we can better reflect the views of the business community in future submissions and engagement opportunities.”

The full decision can be downloaded here.

Here is a summary from the High Court:

"The High Court has upheld in two respects the application by the Wanaka Stakeholders Group to judicially review the decision of the Queenstown Lakes District Council to grant a long-term lease of Wanaka Airport to the Queenstown Airport Company.

The lease is for a term of 100 years and is perpetually renewable unless notice of termination is given 30 years in advance. Under the lease, the Council sold the Airport buildings, runway and associated infrastructure to the Airport Company and gave the Airport Company rights to make most decisions regarding the future development and operation of the Airport. The lease also gave the Airport Company certain rights with respect to the future development of Project Pure, the wastewater treatment plant operated by the Council on land within the perimeter of Wanaka Airport.

The Court’s role in judicial review is to ensure that decisions taken by public bodies are in accordance with relevant legislation and the principles of administrative law. It is not to decide on the substantive merits of such decisions.

The High Court held that, in granting the lease, Council transferred control of Wanaka Airport to the Airport Company. Under the Local Government Act 2002, a transfer of control of a strategic asset such as Wanaka Airport can take place only under the process prescribed in the Act for the adoption or amendment of the Council’s long-term plan. That process had not been followed. Therefore, the decision to grant the lease did not comply with the Local Government Act and was unlawful.

The High Court also held that the consultation process carried out by the Council before granting the lease did not comply with the consultation requirements of the Local Government Act.

The Court was satisfied that the lease had been agreed by the Council’s negotiating team in the expectation that Wanaka Airport would be developed as a complementary airport to Queenstown Airport to accommodate narrow body jet aircraft, and that the Lease was intended to enable that level of development, even if no final decisions had been made on the timing and scale of future jet services. However, the proposal on which the Council consulted the people and communities of the District envisaged a more limited development of Wanaka Airport that did not include scheduled jet-services. The Court considered that the expectation of introducing jet services to Wanaka Airport arose in the course of negotiations over the lease after the consultation process had concluded.

As a consequence, the proposal on which the Council carried out its consultation process did not fairly represent the nature of the decision taken by the Council when it granted the lease. In this respect too, the decision to grant the lease did not comply with the Local Government Act and was unlawful.

The High Court rejected arguments by the Wanaka Stakeholders Group that, in granting the lease, the Council transferred legal ownership of Wanaka Airport and effective control of Project Pure to the Airport Company. The Court also held that, in granting the lease, the Council had not triggered the requirements of the Local Government Act concerning decisions to alter significantly the level of services provided at Wanaka Airport. The Court also held that it was unnecessary to decide whether the decision to grant the lease was unreasonable or had failed to take account of relevant considerations.

The Court acknowledged that there would be disruption to the tenants at Wanaka Airport, to the Council and to the Airport Company if the lease were set aside. However, it considered that if the lease were not set aside, the public’s ability to have a say in the future uses of the Airport over the next 100 plus years would be limited. Consultation by the Airport Company would be at the Company’s discretion and outside the Local Government Act’s processes.

For these reasons, the High Court declared that the grant of the lease was unlawful, set the lease aside, and declared the lease to be of no legal effect.

The Court declined to make an order restraining the Council and the Airport Company from taking any further steps to develop and operate Wanaka Airport as a dual capable airport with Queenstown Airport. The Court said that, if there continues to be a case for meeting projected demand for passenger air services into the Queenstown Lakes District through the development of Wanaka Airport, including for jet services, it is open to the Council and the Airport Company to pursue that option, provided they do so in accordance with the Local Government Act."