The Government is calling on the Far North District Council to “come to the party” over leaseholder responsibilities regarding the hotly disputed Kaitāia Airport.
But the council says it is not walking away from its responsibilities and is instead looking at long-term viable solutions.
The country’s northernmost airport was saved from closure last month after iwi successfully negotiated a deal that would keep it operational for the next 35 years.
Since 2016 the Far North District Council has leased the airport land month-by-month and council-owned company Far North Holdings Limited operates the airport. The lease arrangement was due to end in June this year but was extended by another six months.
Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti Minister Kelvin Davis said as leaseholders, the council is responsible for maintaining the facilities. However, he had “heard some signs” that it wanted to renege on its side of the bargain.
He claimed the council wrongly believed the Government should “stump up” with the maintenance money.
“They’re saying the Crown’s responsible for everything when they know damn well that isn’t the case... the Government doesn’t run provincial airports.”
Davis said the council wrote to the Government in April this year “totally out of the blue” saying they were going to close the airport in June because the maintenance of the runway was dangerous and without a 35-year lease they had no long-term security.
“Well, that’s resolved so now they need to come to the party.”
Council did not respond to specific questions about the reported letter but Far North District Council chief executive Guy Holroyd said the council was in no way walking away from its responsibilities.
He said the council had been working to progress the sustainability of Kaitāia Airport for several years and that staff and elected members had “dedicated considerable time and energy” to ensuring the airport’s safe operation.
“The council has been trying to secure a new long-term lease for the aerodrome with the Crown since 2016.
“The Crown has refused to commit to a new lease. Without a lease, the council is unable to fund critical upkeep.”
Holroyd said the council and Far North Holdings Limited continue to operate the airfield and ensure the vital transport link for Te Hiku remains open until a permanent solution is agreed.
“Sensitive negotiations between the council, the Crown, and iwi and hapū are continuing.”
The airport’s future was secured after an agreement was reached in which Ngāi Takoto would buy the disputed Crown-owned land and then place it in a joint iwi-hapū trust, ownership of which would be split 50-50 split between Ngāi Takoto and three hapū of Ngāti Kahu, another Far North iwi, with connections to the land.
The Crown would then reimburse Ngāi Takoto for the purchase, and in exchange, the council would be given a free lease on the land to continue operating the airport.
Ngāi Takoto leader Rangitane Marsden said he had not heard anything about the council backtracking. Instead, they had only just begun the process of negotiating the lease. The details of which are still up in the air especially given they were still awaiting the land valuation.
Marsden said the issue iwi faced was how they would recover their investment if they bought the land and a free or cheap lease, such as the $1 a year arrangement now, was in place.
“Our bottom line is that we don’t want any burden on ratepayers. The discussion will be about what does a solution look like from all sides.”
But achieving that will be hard, Marsden said.
“We’re not looking at a solution for two to three years, we’re thinking long term. We have to think what will this look like in 40 years?”
He said the Government or Crown would need to help in some shape or form until a more commercially viable plan could be formulated.
Karina Cooper is deputy news director and covers breaking and general news for the Advocate. She also has a special interest in investigations.