Handshake deal may have sparked lawsuit

A classic Kiwi handshake deal related to the future of Queenstown Airport and neighbour Remarkables Park may have sparked years of litigation costing millions of dollars.

Wellington Airport chief executive Steve Sanderson was called to the witness stand yesterday in a long-running Environment Court battle between Queenstown Airport and Remarkables Park.

The battle over undeveloped "Lot 6" land owned by Remarkables Park, run by Alastair Porter, and the Queenstown Airport Corporation was referred back to the Environment Court in September by the High Court.

Mr Sanderson, who was Queenstown Airport chief executive from 2007 to late 2011, was referred to land swap deeds and contracts between the airport and Remarkables Park by Remarkables Park lawyer Royden Somerville, QC.

Dr Somerville said Mr Porter's evidence was that he and former airport corporation chairman Mark Taylor "shook hands and indicated to each other there would be an ongoing relationship of co-operation and goodwill when it came to the integrated management of the airport land and the Remarkables Park zone".

Mr Taylor was the previous corporation board chairman from 2007 to 2011, when he was dismissed by the Queenstown Lakes District Council, the airport's majority shareholder, after a controversial shareholding debacle.

Mr Sanderson said he was not there during the handshake described by Dr Somerville and was then asked whether it was his understanding that was the approach to be taken when he was appointed chief executive.

"I didn't get a direction. I didn't give Alastair Porter an agreement he could pursue large-format retail."

He was also asked whether deeds stipulated there was no designation of Lot 6 for aerodrome purposes and there was a commitment on that basis by the corporation. "I cannot confirm the commitment but can confirm there was no designation over Lot 6."

Remarkables Park claims that in the absence of a mutual agreement the airport is unable to alter or change the designation of Lot 6 land to the south, land the airport prefers for development of general aviation such as helicopter hangars.

The airport applied for a notice of requirement in an effort to compulsorily acquire Lot 6, which was labelled as nationally significant by the Environment Minister in early 2011.

Dr Somerville, in closing submissions, told the court there were options including cancelling the notice of requirement, modifying the Lot 6 designation or calling for fresh evidence.

"The promises made in contractual arrangements were specific and unqualified that the land transferred to RPL would not be the subject of a notice of requirement.

"The land would not be the subject of an airport designation."

The Southland Times