MEDIA RELEASE: Runway extension undermined by economic and sea level rise factors

News that Wellington Airport (WIAL) will shortly release a business case on the proposed airport runway extension is to be welcomed as a step to greater transparency. But how much transparency will it actually deliver? The tired mantra of ‘300 metres for $300 million’ has been around for a long time now, while plans have shifted and costs have doubtless risen, says Richard Randerson, co-chair of Guardians of the Bays.

And the environmental viability of airport operations is seriously undermined by news this week from Victoria University researcher Dr Nick Golledge that melting ice from Antarctica is likely to add another 40cm to sea level rise predictions, on top of the roughly one metre previously expected to inundate Wellington’s coastal suburbs by 2100. Already, storm surges are washing away roading around the south coast, with both Cobham Drive and Moa Point access roads underwater in recent years.

Evans Bay ca 1940s; modified landing gear for an absent runway
Evans Bay ca 1940s; modified landing gear for an absent runway

Economically, Wellingtonians will be looking for more robust costings and benefits than have so far been available. Speculation about regional profits of $640 million by 2060 lack credibility. Forecasting 45 years ahead is no more than fantasy, and the amount cited scarcely breath-taking.

When assessing costs, a gold standard is set by Treasury’s Better Business Case template. The BBC looks for answers to key questions in terms of strategy, value for money, commercial viability, affordability and project management. Any business case requires objective peer review following the above criteria. We call on the City Council to ensure such a review is made and publicised so that ratepayers may judge on facts rather than pipe-dreams.

The question of who will pay begs a better answer than anything provided to date. WIAL’s own confidence in the viability of the project is undermined by its statement that it would not be profitable for it to contribute more than $50 million of the estimated $300 million cost, a cost that is sure to rise. Wellington ratepayers, both residential and commercial, should be watching their hip-pockets closely to avoid being fleeced for a project that to date has no credible rationale and could be a very expensive white elephant.

The runway extension project has run for too long on bright images and glossy PR. Now is the time for rational analysis and objective decision-making by Council and citizens based on reliable information from disinterested parties.

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