Controversial plans to turn Wānaka community airport into jet airport dealt major blow in High Court

Source: 1News

Controversial plans to turn Wānaka's community airport into one narrow body jet airplanes could use has been dealt a major blow in the High Court this afternoon.

The planned project, which saw the Queenstown Lakes District Council grant a long-term lease of Wānaka Airport to the Queenstown Airport Company, had been publicly opposed by thousands of residents and three local councillors.

The Airport Company would also receive "certain rights with respect to the future development" of Project Pure, a wastewater treatment plant located near the airport. 

The Wānaka Stakeholders Group Inc put forward an application to have the move judicially reviewed, which the High Court today upheld in two respects: that the Council had transferred its control of Wānaka Airport to the Airport Company; and the Council's consultation process prior to the granting the lease "did not comply with the consultation requirements of the Local Government Act".

"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 said.

"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 decision read. 

However, the High Court rejected arguments by the Wānaka Stakeholders Group that the Council, in granting the lease, had "transferred legal ownership of Wanaka Airport and effective control of Project Pure to the Airport Company in granting the lease".

The Court declined to make an order restraining the Council and Airport Company from further steps to develop and operate the airport as a dual capable airport with Queenstown Airport, however.

In a statement, chair of Wānaka Stakeholders Group chair Michael Ross said they are "absolutely delighted" by the decision.

"We're absolutely delighted to receive the judgement from the High Court this afternoon that the lease of Wānaka Airport to QAC has been overturned because it is unlawful.

"This judgement confirms what we and our nearly 3,500 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," he said.

"The Upper Clutha community has been emphatic: we don't want an additional jet airport developed near Wānaka, and we won't stand by while our local Council or airport company act against the will of the community."

Ross said the the group will now take "at least the next few days" to review the judgement and consider its next steps.