Wellington Ratepayers Will Pay for Wellington International Airport’s Folly
19 November 2017 – Wellington International Airport is continuing its cynical campaign to shoehorn Wellington ratepayers into paying for a runway extension, despite having no airline, no business case and no eye to safety concerns raised by pilots, according to concerned ratepayers, community leaders and recreational groups.
Guardians of the Bays, which represents more than 600 recreational, community and ratepayer members, says Wellington Airport’s announcement that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a Chinese company to construct the new extension shows it has little respect for the community or the ratepayers.
Guardians of the Bays’ Co-Chair Richard Randerson says WIAL is trying to reinvigorate its extension plans on the back of the Government’s $1 billion regional development fund.
“The questions that residents and ratepayers had prior to the General Election have still not been addressed. There is already evidence that the proposal is likely to cost much more than the $350m originally suggested, up to $500m according to one expert.
“The Environment Court process is not completed, there are still questions about the safety of the airport currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court and there is still no detailed business case.”
Co-Chair Dr. Sea Rotmann says the burden to ratepayers and taxpayers of the proposed extension continues to be unacceptable – particularly as the suggested benefits to Wellington City are anything but guaranteed.
“No airline has committed to flying into an extended airport and the one airline currently flying (via Canberra) is getting very low loadings, according to an independent monitor of routes around the world. Singapore Airlines reduced the number of flights in response to low demand.
“The Airport has specified the limit for its own investment in the extension at $100m now. Anything above this must come from Wellington ratepayers and New Zealand taxpayers. There is still no business case that has gone through the Treasury’s Better Business Case process to prove if it is even eligible for public funding,” she says.
In a meeting with Guardians representatives earlier this year, Mayor Justin Lester said the extension was not likely to happen anytime soon and that Wellington City Council would not commit to providing more than $90m.
“Mayor Justin Lester said that Wellington ratepayers will not be contributing any more money to the Airport’s application process. The Mayor has finally declared enough is enough – Wellington City will not hemorrhage money to support a poorly planned and poorly researched project when many, more critical initiatives need prioritising. So why are he, and WCC CEO Kevin Lavery signing an MoU with a Chinese construction company and airline as if this proposal is a done deal?
“The Council already gave the Airport $3m of ratepayers’ precious money to fund the creation of its reports, which are consistently being shown to be little more than ‘spin’ to support the Airport’s slant on the proposal.
“Infratil, majority owners of Wellington Airport, are offering to put in less than 20 percent. The rest will have to come from ratepayers and taxpayers. That means further increases in rates.
“How can Wellington sell its self as a world-class tourist destination with a strong environmental record when we need to invest so heavily in things that make it just that, such as our infrastructure, earthquake resilience and our performing arts’ venues?”, Dr Rotmann says.
“Other priorities for Council expenditure include affordable housing, reducing traffic congestion – like on the access road to the airport – and improved social services,” says Richard Randerson.
“Ratepayers have consistently rated such items as of greater priority than a runway extension. It is very disappointing that the Mayor and Chief Council Executive should be signing an MOU with a Chinese construction corporation before essential criteria have been met. It makes a mockery of democracy and slants the playing field in favour of an extension before the matter has even been considered by the Environment Court,” he says.