The promised social and economic impact assessments for the proposed Wānaka Airport are underway but local groups are concerned that the whole process is broken.
Last week, various community groups in Queenstown and Wānaka started receiving emails from Queenstown Lakes District Council’s chosen consultants, MartinJenkins. The consultants advised that QLDC would be sending invites to focus groups, and that spaces were limited. Those invitations have now been sent, with each group receiving only one invitation, regardless of the size of the group, for one specific focus group session, with only a week’s notice.
Four Upper Clutha community associations (representing a population of 3,500 residents), the staff of Mount Aspiring College, Grey Power, We Love Wakatipu and Wānaka Stakeholders Group (WSG) are all understood to have each received one invitation each for their group.
The microscopic list of participants is concerning. Thorough stakeholder and beneficiary analysis (SA) is an entry point to Social Impact Assessments (SIA) and participatory work. A good SIA addresses strategic questions, e.g. who are the key stakeholders, what are their interests in the project or policy, what are the power differentials between them, what relative influence do they have on the operation? Whose opinions matter but are hard to reach and how do we reach them?
But so far, the general population of Wānaka, who are the primary stakeholders and beneficiaries of the airport have not been approached for any form of consultation. There are no public meetings planned, or online surveys or any other tool which an impact assessment consultant could use to reach all corners of the population. As it stands, only people who belong to current lobby groups or interest groups get a say, and only with one invite by MartinJenkins.
QLDC shared MartinJenkins’ methodology with the Wānaka Sun late yesterday afternoon stating it will, “Identify the positive and negative economic and social impacts associated with Queenstown Airports, through: client discussions, literature review and focus group discussions.” A broad-based participatory approach was not mentioned.
More alarmingly, the four scenarios MartinJenkins is analysing are: 1) No change in noise boundaries at Queenstown Airport, 2) Change in noise boundaries at Queenstown Airport
3) Dual airports with scheduled flights from Wānaka and 4) New International Airport. (Italics ours).
The Wānaka Sun asked for clarity around competing conclusions and how they will be evaluated. If the social assessment proves opposed to airport development, but the economic assessment proves in favour, which assessment carries the most weight? The methodology stated, “There is no evaluation criteria as the analysis will not result in a ranking of scenarios. Impacts will not be weighted, by impact or by social or economic focus. Not all quantified impacts are comparable for a range of measurement reasons and not all impacts can be effectively quantified or measured. For example, several impacts (such as noise — have both social and economic impacts). Some activities will result in several impacts which may have both positive and negative effects on groups.”
WSG wrote to MartinJenkins and the Council on Tuesday detailing their “significant concerns” at a process which they say is “seriously flawed”. WSG chair Michael Ross says: “It’s really hard to know where to begin. Almost every aspect of the process surrounding the reports is problematic. They are steeped in secrecy and it all appears rushed and stacked in favour of a pro-airport decision. While we were only contacted last Wednesday, MartinJenkins appears to have been talking to tourism businesses since before Christmas.” The group is participating on a “without prejudice” basis, but their five-page letter leaves no doubt where they stand with the process.
*Just as going to press, QLDC released a statement inviting residents to a public online survey. It has also released a list of all organisations that have been invited to the focus groups. These are available on our website. Whilst public surveys were not listed in the methodology given to the Wānaka Sun this afternoon, the QLDC invitation confirms otherwise.