Helene Ritchie: Runaway rates for vanity projects (Opinion)

“Wellington City Council’s rates hike at 6.1% is too high. Priorities are skewed in the wrong direction towards vanity projects for political expediency,  and disproportionate “growth-economic” funds and projects.  The result: cuts and deliberately delayed spending on essential infrastructure  eg. to prevent flooding  around the Basin Reserve and Medical Centre) or to strengthen the Capital’s languishing historic Town Hall-closed and kept closed for up to eight years, scheduled to reopen only in 2019/20. Editors Note: Before I get the “6.1% is not correct” backlash, the burdened rates are actually that figure. The reality is that rates are set down to 4.9% next year, which I have confirmed with the Deputy Mayor. The long term rate increase under the LTP is significant. I calculate 62% over the next decade. This has been very confusing. When I contacted several Councillors none of them could give me the figure for next year’s increases. Which is worrying, when they are the governor’s of Wellington. It is disingenuous  of the mayor  to say that “we have kept our promise of no more than 4.5% average rates increase per year”…..when in fact the document (P. 10) shows  the increase is  6. 1% this year,  (which is on top Read More …

The Council has its head is in the sand over sea surges

All the locals new it was coming. Sunday dawned bright and early and I was writing the first blog of the week I could see the salt spray drifting across the airport. A quick check showed that a massive storm system was sending waves north, coupled with a high-tide, was always going to result in more chaos around the South Coast. And come it did. For the fifth time this year. Residents were very lucky that we didn’t get the usual wind and storm pattern that we have with a southerly, which could have pushed the surge up into people’s properties all along the coast. It amazes me that they haven’t rioted about the lack of action, or rather, lack of result that the Council has made with coastal defences. A lot of new seawalls have gone in, however, they are being smashed at a rate of knots already and even the most recent walls are failing in high surge conditions. Island Bay remains broken after the last major storm, walls all around Eastern Suburbs have failed, been replaced, have failed, and have been replaced. Owhiro Bay has been smashed. Lyall Bay is consistently smashed. It is getting worse. My Read More …

That Airport Extension: More optimism bias, less facts and is the extension enough for long-haul planes to land?

A corporate finance partner at Deloitte writes in the Dominion Post this week a rhetorical question to which they clearly think they know the answer. “Should Wellington consider an extension to its runway?” What is interesting about this is that the opinion shows further optimism bias coupled with some facts that are incorrect and the comments are the majority in the negative. Don’t forget to participate in the 2015 WCC Residents Survey – Who’s naughty and nice? I’ve written about this recently, and find it fascinating. What we have on one hand is what appear to a small-minority of people that think that an airport extension will dig us out of an economic hole and make us all fabulously wealth, to be funded by we the people, pouring cash into a private company. The current state of play is that the City Council has agreed to put aside $90 million for an extension if the business case stacks up, the resource consent is approved, AND that a long-haul airline is committed. Let’s look at the latest opinion. Anyone who has lived in Wellington will confirm that the idea of direct long haul flights has significant appeal.  Of course there are Read More …

Whoops: Should the Mayor and Deputy Mayor be able to vote on any future Airport Extension Proposal?

Yesterday’s brief blog has broken all records at Strathmore Park, peaking at nearly two thousand views an hour it has had thousands of you reading. Some of you have pointed out to me what you think is a breach of Council rules, particularly by the Deputy Mayor, and asked if both he, and the Mayor, should be allowed to vote on any future airport extension proposal. Councillors are held to specific legislation and various forms of codes of conduct that cover a wide gambit of areas. The primary reasons for this are to ensure that we think they are above reproach and acting on our behalf as residents and to ensure that corruption cannot be allowed to take hold. At the core of this legislation is the requirement for Mayor and Councillors to “keep an open mind” on issues. My words. This means that elected officials should not make up their minds without consulting with the community and ensuring that decisions also factor in all available information, in fact, demand adequate information be made available in order to reach a decision in voting. This is the reason that the Councillors have shied away from taking a stand on any one Read More …

Why Air New Zealand and other Airlines will never use a longer Wellington runway

So far missed by the local media an interview this morning was a Radio NZ piece talking to the CEO of Air New Zealand. While Air New Zealand didn’t explicitly rule out flying long haul routes from here, the evidence was absolutely damning. One thing is for sure, you could build an airport extension as long as you like, but Air New Zealand won’t be taking advantage of it. Air New Zealand explains that in order to setup a long haul route Air New Zealand (or any airline for that matter) they must make an investment of between $300m and $400m because it requires two wide-bodied aircraft. Each route costs a further $160m a year to run and relies on filling a three hundred seat aircraft to about 80%, or two-hundred thousand people over a year. The Air NZ CEO points out that up to nine airlines have pulled out of New Zealand because of this investment, and they already had access to a longer airport, Auckland. “The data that the Wellington City Council has tells us that there are twelve Wellingtonians that want to go to Singapore. There is probably about fourteen people going to Hong Kong. So even if Read More …

Wellington Airport extension increasingly coming undone: Fool’s Gold

With the long term plan submission underway this week, the oral ones, we start to see the airport extension starting to increasingly come undone. The consultation to date has been, in my opinion, a sham, typical of the arrogance of the uninformed and money men (and women) who try to sell us this snake oil. First up, best dressed, before we get to the submissions including today’s, someone who has made contact with me on their theory as to why the airport is so hell-bent on getting this extension and getting everyone else to pay for it. The real reason for the airport expansion is this: Given that WIAL is a natural monopoly, it is regulated by the commerce commission, and is generally limited to a profit of 8.4% on it’s assets. Increase the asset base, in the form of a lengthened runway (and not incidentally, a new terminal) and magically, WIAL can charge more for the exact same services it already provides, even if no additional airlines arrive, or routes open up. Source It’s that simple. Follow the dollars. Unfortunately for the taxpayer, one suspects that most of those increased profit dollars will end up in the hands of Infratil, Read More …

Airport Extension: Looking like a white elephant and yet another consultation failure brewing

In the latest blow to the Wellington Extension idea the Board of Airline Representatives (BRANZ), representing twenty airlines, are sending some mixed messages about whether airlines will fly here if the extension goes ahead. Radio NZ reports BRANZ as stating that there is no intention by any airline to fly into Wellington if the extension goes ahead and that they [BRANZ] want to see a much better cost analysis first. But the Deputy Mayor seems to know better than BRANZ and insists: “We’re talking to a number of airlines that are members of BARNZ and they are saying to us they’re interested in looking at this in the future. “They’re saying they’re interested in flying to Wellington, they want to continue discussions and we’re looking at commercial arrangements.” So let’s get this really clear. BRANZ, who represent twenty airlines, are categorically stating that right now, it is there understanding that none of their members are even thinking about this, however, the Deputy Mayor, says the exact opposite. Red flag that one. Now, BRANZ is being very transparent and has stated, up front, that one of their underlying concerns is that the costs to airlines landing in Wellington will go up as Read More …

That Wellington airport extension: Would you invest in it?

Wellingtonians are a funny bunch. We hate change yet we want change. We are prepared to lampoon anyone who either promotes a change, or, anyone who is perceived to be slowing change down. Case in point. A massive negative reaction to a new, I thought clever, design for the airport control tower. Can’t have that mate, it’s weird. Case number two, a negative reaction to anyone who asks questions about the airport extension. Just get on with it mate, stop being weird. But the last few days have me swaying away from the extension and back to the weird files. Weird, because the mayors have come out strongly promoting it, and promising to reach into our wallets to do it, when the support for it and the economics aren’t really making a lot of sense. Even more weird, asking the Wellingtonians to provide feedback on the idea but not actually giving enough information to make a submission. Where is the business case? It’s gone from bad to worse for the idea over the last few days with a number of counter-punches landing on the idea of extending our runway. The most recent is that Air New Zealand is pulling certain international services Read More …

Wellington Airport Progress, Leaks, Parking, and Posturing

At the risk of annoying the Chairman of the WIAL Board again, I have some updates on the planned airport extension that have been sent to me by one of the local residents. It makes for interesting reading to say the least and we can be absolutely certain that nothing will be happening anytime soon. So apparently, the airport did not release the recent engineering report to the Dominion Post and is understandable annoyed about that, which shows that they are obviously getting a little sensitive over the entire ongoing shambles. Really, how hard is it? It either makes sense or not, and just get on with it or dump it. Berl couldn’t make economic sense of it, so apparently the airport has engaged Ernst Young (no doubt to get a more suitable answer), and that report (despite my asking the Mayor), is not going to be released. Hopefully someone will leak that as well. Here are some new dates for all you avid airport followers: June 2014 will see a full engineering report, design, and cost. August 2014 will have a full business case completed. November 2014 is when the consent starts to be put together and its all put Read More …

Wellington Airport and the Death of Bridge Street

In May of 2012 residents of Eastern Suburbs warned that airport plans were likely to create a “wasteland” and looking at the evidence, this seems to have come to pass. The airport in its insatiable drive to collect more land (undoubtedly to build more carparks) has destroyed a once thriving community street in Rongotai. In a PR hyper-spin, that only the WIAL could have created, it released a brochure titled “We are making changes to further protect our community against noise.” For residents of Bridge Street that protection of the community included buying their properties and removing them, which conveniently falls into the longer term airport plan which sees the company spreading itself deeper into Rongotai, Miramar, and Strathmore, which have seen a school to be closed and an increasing ghetto of empty houses with streets used as overflow parking from the airport parking and rental operations based there or nearby. Originally slated as removing only nineteen houses in the area, that number jumped to twenty-two, and then astonishingly, to forty-four. Whether you agree with the expansion of the airport or not, one thing should be clear, the airport is not a good neighbour. It has, in my opinion, shown Read More …