Granting of airport lease deemed unlawful

Photo: ODT files.
Photo: ODT files.
The Queenstown Lakes District Council’s granting of a 100-year lease for Wanaka Airport has been cast aside by the High Court as unlawful over its failure to follow proper process.

In a decision released yesterday, the court upheld two aspects of a judicial review requested by the Wanaka Stakeholders Group last year.

The group opposed the development of the airport for jet services and wanted the 100-year lease provided by the Queenstown Lakes District Council to the Queenstown Airport Corporation to be scrapped.

The court found, in granting the lease, the council transferred control of Wanaka Airport to the QAC.

The correct process for that transfer was not followed, and the decision to grant the lease did not comply with the Local Government Act so was therefore unlawful.

It also found 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 proposal to develop the airport to accommodate jet aircraft was decided upon after consultation had finished, which meant the public was not consulted.

The court rejected arguments by the 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 concerning decisions to alter significantly the level of services provided at Wanaka Airport.

While the court acknowledged there would be disruption if the lease was set aside, if it was not set aside, the public’s ability to have a say on the future use of the airport over the next 100-plus years would be limited.

The court declared the granting of the lease was unlawful, set the lease aside and declared the lease to have no legal effect.

In a statement, Wanaka Stakeholders Group chairman Michael Ross said the group was delighted by the decision.

"This judgement confirms what we and our nearly 3500 members have said clearly and consistently from the outset: the community was not consulted properly and QLDC has not been transparent about such possible plans."

The group would take at least a few days to review the judgement and consider the next steps before commenting further, he said.

A council spokesman said the council acknowledged the court’s finding it had not followed the correct statutory processes to lease the airport, but welcomed its rejection that the council had deliberately misled the community.

The council would work with councillors and the airport company to agree on the next steps for the airport and would communicate with the community on the nature of the businesses operating at the facility.

The council would not be making any further comment, the spokesman said.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said he had no further comment.

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