Ignore case’s politics, barrister asks judge

The High Court judge hearing a judicial review of the lease of Wanaka Airport has been asked to disregard the politics.

Justice Gerard van Bohemen began hearing the case brought by the Wanaka Stakeholders Group (WSG) against the Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) in Queenstown on Monday.

The WSG contends the 100-year lease of Wanaka Airport by the council to the QAC was unlawful and should be scrapped, because the lease differed substantially from the statement of proposal put to the public during consultation.

Yesterday, council barrister Nick Whittington began his submissions by "clearing the decks".

He suggested much of the case presented by WSG counsel Julian Miles QC was evidence about the type of development proposed for Wanaka Airport rather than about the lease and the statement of proposal.

He described the majority of affidavits as being "not relevant", saying they contained "inadmissible" opinions.

He was critical of evidence suggesting the council had already made a decision to develop the airport for jet services.

"It is a fundamental premise of WSG’s case that the council, or QAC, or both collectively, have decided to ... convert it into a code C jet-capable facility," Mr Whittington said.

"The council has done no such thing. No record of such a decision exists.

"All that the council has done is alter the governance and management arrangements for Wanaka Airport, with a view to enabling development options, if appropriate, to be the subject of a master planning process."

He said before negotiating the lease, the council undertook seven weeks of formal public consultation, held meetings in Wanaka and at the airport and conducted a hearing.

It left for "another day" the appropriateness of any development.

He said the council still controlled the airport because the lease contained "provisions ensuring the QAC’s right of exclusive possession is subject to the council’s direction through the statement of intent".

He said the WSG incorrectly believed the lease "somehow demonstrates that a decision has been made to convert the airport into a code C jet-capable facility".

The council decided on the long-term lease option at a meeting in April 2017, and it was finalised by a negotiating team of Mayor Jim Boult, Deputy mayor Calum MacLeod , Cr Tony Hill and chief executive Mike Theelen, in March 2018.

He said Mr Boult was not the "decision-maker" but one of 11 voices on the council.

The case continues today.

mark.price@odt.co.nz

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