NEWS: Dave Armstrong: Ahem, don’t mention the … runway extension

Original article here.

OPINION:  Last week, the umpteenth repeat of the famous Fawlty Towers ”Germans” episode was playing on my TV. Despite having seen it countless times, I had to stop and watch a hilariously concussed, goose-stepping John Cleese say “don’t mention the war” in front of tearful Germans.

This reminded me of our present Wellington City Council, where the rule seems to be “don’t mention the airport runway extension”.

The issue was a major one last term. Never mind that extending the runway would greatly increase greenhouse emissions, our Green mayor got right behind it. And despite the airport extension arguably being corporate welfare, the Labour deputy mayor, and now our present mayor, strongly supported it, too.

Council chief executive Kevin Lavery was also a big fan, naming the runway extension in early 2016 – along with the Film Museum and Convention Centre, which also seems to be in a state of limbo – as an area in which he wanted to make “real progress”.

Lavery and mayor Justin Lester were also involved in brokering the “Capital Express” route deal, which saw Singapore Airlines fly from Singapore to Canberra to Wellington, and receive a nice council subsidy in the process.

Surely if a direct flight from Singapore was successful then that would show that a runway extension would bring even bigger planes and more tourists to enjoy Te Papa, the cable car and the Wellington Seve … oops.

With the regular exception of councillors Sarah Free, David Lee and Helene Ritchie, the council agreed to support extension plans and fund a feasibility study.

But during the mayoral campaign some leopards changed their spots. After initially supporting the extension, Nicola Young did more research and came out against it. Even runway-friendly councillor Jo Coughlan questioned the deal. There seemed little public appetite for the extension.

Yet since election day, we have heard very little about the extension from councillors. Has our mayor been going around in a Cleese-like manner saying, “Don’t mention the runway extension. I did once but I think I got away with it.” Or has interest simply waned?

None of our new councillors have publicly supported the extension. Of the old guard, only Mayor Lester and “Swampy” Marsh have expressed support, and not for a while.

Can you blame everyone for keeping quiet? According to the airport, international arrivals have dropped by 9000 in the last year. However, Wellington-Auckland trips have increased.

I’m sure the airport would argue that the numbers would reverse if we had a longer runway, in the same way Roger Douglas argues that any failures of Rogernomics were because he wasn’t allowed to go far enough.

As for the Singapore route, even though it was touted as a great deal by subsidy supporters, Singapore Airlines recently announced that it was cutting back on flights to Wellington from August to October. To be fair, the cutback is only about 5 per cent and the airline said it is simply dealing with lower demand in the off-season. Surely demand will pick up in January with the glorious summer weather and the Wellington Seve … oops.

When Mayor Lester recently addressed anti-runway lobby group Guardians of the Bay, co-chair Dr Sea Rotman reported that, “Mr Lester stated that if the [Singapore] ‘Capital Express’ route take-up indicated a lack of demand, the runway extension would be taken off the table.”

Though a 5 per cent drop is hardly the sort of customer drop-off that happened with events like the Seven … oops … I’m sure it’s still far from the type of demand that he and other runway supporters had hoped for.

Since being elected, Mr Lester has won many friends. His response to the Kaikoura earthquake was exemplary, his support for council housing has widespread support, and his progressive council has been praised by both business and citizen groups. The mayor’s style of efficient but consensual leadership has drawn praise from councillors on all sides.

If the “Capital Express” route continues to be sluggish, then Lester would have good reason to do what I suspect the majority of his councillors and Wellington’s ratepayers want him to do and throw the plans for this hazardous boondoggle off the table and deep into the dangerous 9-metre Lyall Bay swell.

 – Dave Armstrong, The Dominion Post

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  1. So the airport has cancelled the Supreme Court appeal after Lester withdrew Council support?
    How many many passengers did not go on Singapore airlines service in the same period last year in 2016 but now have the option?


  2. For goodness sake! don’t mention the surf breaks!
    The Wellington Regional Council own 87f report states that the famous Corner surf break will be decimated by the extension. But Dr Goring on behalf of GWRC does not consider the repetitive modifications of the seawall from vertical to sloping which soaks up most of the swell energy reaching the Corner surf break in the present day.

    Surfing at Lyall Bay provides a pleasurable spectacle to the many onlookers, as well as enjoyment for the surfers themselves.
    To harm the Corner, is to harm the status Wellington has as the best city in the world to live. God forbid we become 4th , 5th, or worse….


  3. The only reason that there is a surf break there is because of the breakwater which was built to protect the airport runway. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away!
    Plenty of other places to surf. I used to enjoy playing in my boat off the breakwater because the waves built up nicely and I could practice boat handling skills. I do not recall ever seeing surfers though?
    Funnily enough the runway may have to be extended even further than the proposed 355 Metres to cope with the increased RESA requirements should they be adopted. NZALPA want another 240 Metres.
    Even less surf in that case


    1. Jeff, There has always been surf breaks there, before the construction of the airport, and they were ridden by surfers.
      Read up on your history ( try “Blue White and Dynamite” for starters) and open your eyes. A surf break (such as the Corner) is a response of natural processes to the existing land form. Surf breaks are recognised by the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 as Outstanding Natural Features (ONF’s) in their own right.

      There is approximately one surf break for every 38 km of Coastline in NZ (Scarfe 2008). That equates to about 470 recognised surf breaks in New Zealand in total. ” Plenty of other places to surf”? If you destroy one surf break you can not just go 200 meters and surf somewhere else. You cannot have your airport extension if it conflicts significantly with Matters of National Importance ( section 6, 7,of the RMA,- but not limited to). and there are sufficient numbers of surfers concerned enough to draw a line in the sand on this.


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