Local residents against the proposed Wellington Airport runway extension want the project’s backers to come clean on the proposal so voters can have their say in this year’s Local Government Elections.

The Guardians of the Bays, which includes South Coast residents and recreational users as well as concerned residents from across the city, have produced a myth-busting leaflet, taking aim at the misinformation being spread about the project by the owners of Wellington International Airport Ltd (WIAL), private company Infratil and Wellington City Council (WCC). The leaflet gives Wellingtonians a chance to ask questions of their local councillors and mayoral hopefuls as part of the 2016 Local Government Election Campaign.

“Wellingtonians need to have the chance to decide on the proposed extension based on facts not propaganda and misinformation. We want to cut through the confusion so Wellingtonians get all the facts before we commit any more valuable ratepayers’ money to this fanciful proposal,” says Dr Sea Rotmann, adding that WIAL made $108 million in revenue last year but Wellington City Council (which owns one-third of WIAL on behalf of ratepayers) received less than $12 million in dividends.

“Wellington’s ratepayers are being asked to pay $150 million towards the runway extension. Where is this money going to come from and how much will our residential, and especially business, rates have to increase to pay for it?”

“And why is Wellington City Council committing ratepayers to pay for half of the runway extension when Infratil, who will benefit the most, are putting forward less than 20%?”

“WIAL has had years to put out their side of the story – with glossy ads and websites full of fancy forecasts, which have all been criticised as being highly implausible by independent experts. Its time for Wellingtonians to have a chance to come to their own conclusion and sort the fact from fiction.”

“This proposal basically means a big wealth transfer from ratepayers to a large private company, Infratil. It’s a corporate handout with little certainty of success and the council is literally gambling our money away.”

“The extension is being pursued by Infratil who have their own stake in WIAL. They know if they can get the extension built, regardless of whether it attracts any long-haul flights or not, they can include the runway in their asset base.”

“Increasing the value of its assets means it can charge the airlines higher landing fees – meaning everyone’s airfares will increase. Better yet for Infratil, they’re asking ratepayers and taxpayers to fund over 80% of the extension because even they admit it makes no economic sense for their shareholders to foot the bill – even though they have over $1b in their coffers looking for somewhere to invest it.”

The residents are also decrying WIAL’s claim that the extension won’t impact on the surf at Lyall Bay as misleading.

“The runway extension will be disastrous for Lyall Bay and its vibrant heritage and surf culture. It’s estimated that surfable waves will be reduced by more than 25% and some breaks will be gone forever,” said Dr Rotmann.
“In addition to this, WIAL has submitted to Greater Wellington Regional Council on its draft Natural Resources Plan, seeking the deletion of its surf break protection policy, and has said that the ’Corner surf break’ in particular, does not warrant protection in the plan. Wellington City Council has made a similar submission which if successful, would mean WIAL and the Council could completely devolve any responsibility for significantly degrading Lyall Bay’s surf breaks, a taonga of our city.”

Dr Rotmann says the airport and Wellington City Council need to admit that the runway extension is a leap of faith for linking Wellington to the world and is unlikely to increase direct long-haul flights to major cities.

“None of the major airlines flying into New Zealand have said they will fly long-haul to Wellington if the runway is extended. And the new Wellington-Canberra-Singapore route has required massive subsidies from ratepayers in both cities to the tune of $9 per passenger – and this does not include the reduced landing charges and the higher Canberra subsidies. Yet all this new route proves is that we don’t need a runway extension to attract international airlines, we just need ratepayer subsidies.”

The Guardians of the Bays are calling on ratepayers to demand answers from their local representatives.

“What alternative ideas have Wellington City Council properly investigated to help boost economic development in Wellington – why haven’t they being explored further? Ratepayers put forward a number of creative ideas to further the development of our city. Why were they ignored in favour of the airport runway extension which is being treated as a panacea for all of Wellington’s economic problems by some Councillors?”

“The airport is expected to lodge its resource consent application any day now, which means there will be little time for the public to prepare to have their concerns heard in the Environment Court hearing later in the year – the deadline for public submissions could be as early as the end of May.”

“Even though we have still not seen a proper business case and the airport admits the extension fails its own test for a sound investment, most of the Council, particularly most of the Mayoral candidates, seem determined to push this ill-conceived project through at all cost. The cost will be borne, almost entirely, by the Wellington public for what promises to be little more than a giant White Elephant on our South Coast,” says Dr Rotmann.