It was only a matter of hours prior to my being informed that a presentation by Wellington Airport was to take place before a Council meeting on Tuesday 4th August, 2015. The topic was a (long overdue!) update on progress relating to the Airport Extension Runway – which the Council had paid almost $3m for. It soon became evident that there were still many oceans to cross. For a while the presentation resembled the lines of the WIAL LTP submission where the airport put itself on a pedestal stating that, without it, Wellington simply would not exist. Then about halfway through the presentation, mention was made of the business case for long-haul aircraft operations that would require further engineering reports. In all probability the extension would be 2300 metres in length to the South at an estimated cost of $300 million. There was still no word on any final costings of the project but to date WIAL had spent $2,789,000 and projected another $595,000 for further work:
Of interest was that the southern end construction would be along the lines of a wall around the perimeter of the extension after which fill would be dumped in there. This would require day/night operations with fill originating from Horokiwi or CentrePort. There was no mention of the impact of the movement of hundreds of trucks (?) filled with spoil would have on local residents, let alone 1000s of Wellingtonians along the route. A full management plan would apparently include the community by way of a Community Liaison Group – note that Councillor Free had tried to set up just such a group for the last 2 years, to no avail. Even though WIAL had spoken to iwi, the surf board riders and Moa Point residents, wider public consultation had not been completed but would be done by November.
The first mountain to climb though was a High Court hearing in November between CAA and the NZ Pilots Association to establish the length of the Run Way End Safety Areas (RESAs). WIAL considered 90 metres as an acceptable distance whereas the NZ Pilots Association wanted an extra 240 metres. The next hurdle would be the resource consent application but apparently all that could easily be achieved within the first quarter of 2016, thanks to a fast-tracked board of inquiry process. The business case would then follow (why are us ratepayers paying for the airport’s resource consent application when they haven’t even bothered to undertake a business case or cost-benefit analysis first?).
The Councillors did ask some good questions from WIAL: When questioned about the reason why the ratepayers would need to put so much money into the project, WIAL replied by stating that a planeload of (optimistically!) 220 extra daily passengers would simply not provide sufficient return on the $300 million investment. Another Councillor asked about the situation where Infratil were the owners and what would eventuate if they decided to sell their interest. WIAL sidestepped this hairy but important question by stating that someone would need to ask the Directors of Infratil (although you’d think the WIAL CEO had some communication with them!). Another Councillor asked about the issue of waves pounding over the end of the runway during severe storms. WIAL replied that the design of the end would mitigate 8 metre waves, but did not state anything about the waves up to 15 metres that had recently been experienced or the effects of rising oceans due to climate change. Another Councillor asked the about financial risk in particular about non-budgeted costs such as court cases meaning that central government funding was crucial. Discussions were apparently in place regardless of public statements by Stephen Joyce, John Key and other senior Ministers. Another Councillor requested the terms of reference of a cost benefit analysis when looking at a 40 year projection – but none of this would be done until the resource consent process was over according to the LTP submission by Steve Sanderson.
No discussion developed over the existing $450m capital expenditure that WIAL was currently undertaking in terms of constructing additions of the existing terminal building and a proposed hotel. Is this a reason why WIAL does not possess sufficient capital to pay for an extended runway and is expecting rate- and taxpayers to come up with the money? Why should they pay when certain Councillors and the Mayor are still clamouring to place WIAL on the crest of a wave… let’s just hope it’s not one that washes the whole white elephant into the Cook Strait!
Stan Andis is the Chair of the Strathmore Park Progressive & Beautifying Association Inc and a member of the Guardians of the Bays.