'Fresh approach' to airport expansion plan 'spin'

Opponents of expansion plans for Queenstown and Wanaka Airports are not entirely certain they have won concessions or have instead been the target of "spin".

About 70 members of the public attended a meeting of the Queenstown Lakes District Council yesterday to discuss concerns over airport expansion plans.

Mayor Jim Boult outlined a "fresh approach" to airport development.

One person described it as "spin" and another argued it did not properly address the council's statement of intent which dictates the way the council's Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) should proceed.

Mr Boult referred to a report on growth projections last year which indicated airport passenger movements were predicted to rise from about 2.2million last year to 7.1million in 2045.

He described the numbers as "confronting" but noted an "emerging slowdown" in tourism "may reduce some pressure".

He acknowledged the "stress, anxiety, dissent and downright vitriol" airport expansion proposals had created and described the reaction as "a genuine source of concern" for councillors and the QAC.

He outlined "short-term projects", including the Queenstown terminal upgrade and

acquisition of neighbouring land in Queenstown, and revealed economic and social impact assessments of the airports would be carried out and opened for public consultation.

Mr Boult emphasised that until the work was done, the council would not consider any change to Queenstown Airport air noise boundaries, and "further work on the development of commercial services at Wanaka Airport is on hold".

He said the QAC had told the council the new measures "may have both financial and operational consequences" with delays meaning it might not be able to meet future customer demand.

He ended his statement with a call for all parties to "bring your energy along with an open mind and a willingness potentially to compromise".

Former councillor Gillian Macleod, of the Flightplan 2050 group, was unimpressed.

"I do think it's spin.

"The word on the street is that the airport is not going to stop. [Queenstown] Airport will just, instead, incrementally increase noise boundaries."

Ms Macleod believed the Wakatipu Basin could not "endure any further noise boundary extensions, any further emissions and any further traffic generated by the airport".

Wanaka Stakeholders Group deputy chairman Mark Sinclair said he was "cautiously encouraged" by Mr Boult's statement, though "much more detail" was required.

Graeme Perkins, representing four Upper Clutha community associations most directly affected by air traffic, said while turbo prop aircraft were likely to be acceptable, jet aircraft were "unacceptable to the vast majority".

"We see major conflict in council pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while supporting increased aircraft and associated transport."

Late yesterday, Wanaka Chamber of Commerce chairwoman Bridget Legnavsky welcomed the proposed impact assessments.

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