NEWS Dom Post: Wellington Airport has no ‘Plan B’ if $300m runway extension fails to fly


By Michael Forbes 

Wellington Airport says it has no “Plan B” in place if its proposed runway extension fails to get off the ground.

Airport representatives have told Wellington city councillors they do not expect the $300 million project to have any problems getting resource consent. But if it doesn’t fly, there are no contingency plans.

“You either build the runway extension or you don’t,

airport chief executive Steve Sanderson said on Tuesday.

The project’s main opposition group, Guardians of the Bays, has revealed it already has a dozen technical experts lined up to testify against the project in the Environment Court.

It is preparing a community fightback similar to the movement that killed off the Basin Reserve flyover in 2014, and its members predict the airport’s “arrogance” will come back to bite it.

Arial Runway
An aerial simulation of the proposed Wellington Airport runway extension. It shows a longer Moa Point Rd tunnel running underneath the extension, as well as a new marine habitat and natural beach that will be created along the edge of the reclaimed land at Moa Point.

The airport wants to extend its runway south by 354 metres to allow for direct long-haul flights to Asia, and possibly the United States.

It expects the project will be publicly notified by the Environment Court at the end of the week, with a resource consent hearing likely in February 2017.

Sanderson told councillors to expect plenty of “shooting down” of the project by various groups over the coming months, but not to let that bother them.

Moa Point View
The existing view from 35 Moa Point Rd.
The view from 35 Moa Point Rd with an extended runway.
The view from 35 Moa Point Rd with an extended runway.

“When you get to the Environment Court, the judge isn’t concerned with all the lobbying … the judge is concerned with facts. – DR Rotmann

But complicating matters is the unresolved issue of a High Court judicial review, brought by the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association, which could double the cost of the extension if successful.

The association went to the High Court in November arguing the proposed extension should include 240m safety zones at both ends, rather than the existing 90m zones, which have been approved by the Civil Aviation Authority.

The court is yet to say whether it agrees with the pilots, which had some city councillors worried.

Councillor David Lee asked Sanderson what his “Plan B” was if the court ordered a review of the runway’s safety zones.

There were no such plans in place, Sanderson said. “It won’t be a show-stopper [for the extension], but we would like that process … to be completed before we enter the Environment Court.”

Iona Pannett​ pointed to the New Zealand Transport Agency’s failed attempt at getting consent for the flyover, and asked what “Plan B” was for Wellington’s economic growth if the runway extension suffered the same fate.

Sanderson said the airport’s consent application had been thoroughly researched and was the “complete package”. “We don’t expect it to fail.”

If it did, the entire country would have a problem on its hands, he said, because it could not afford to keep sending long-haul travellers up already congested roads to fly out of Auckland.

“It’s not a case of having a ‘Plan B’ for Wellington, it’s about a ‘Plan B’ for New Zealand.”

Sea Rotmann, of Guardians of the Bays, said the airport was being “spectacularly arrogant” if it thought its consent application would not fail.

The group had already found at least 12 technical experts who believed the extension did not stack up on economic and environmental grounds.

It had also been taking tips from from Save the Basin, the group that successfully led the fight against the flyover, Rotmann said.

“I think the airport’s bravado is going to be its downfall, to be quite honest … we’re going to fight this all the way to the end.