[Ed: note that some typos and mistakes have been corrected and explanatory commentary has been inserted, where relevant]
There will be no satisfactory outcome when a final decision on the Wellington Airport extension resource consent is released, an Environment Court judge has said.
At a judicial conference in the Environment Court, Judge Brian Dwyer heard from opponents who want the resource consent thrown out and Wellington Airport, who want a further six-months to file an application for resource consent.
In March this year, the airport asked for proceedings to be put on hold until October as it dealt with a supreme court ruling about the proposed length of the runway, but now it wasn’t expecting a decision from the Civil Aviation Authority until May [Ed: not March] next year.
Lawyer for Guardians of the Bay and Hue Tē Taka, James Gardiner-Hopkins said it was “deja vu” being back in the courtroom.
He argued that the resource consent had been sought under a direct referral – where the consent is decided by the Environment Court rather than the local council – in order to speed up the process, but that had not happened.
Many of the technical reports were out of date and it would be better to start afresh with a new resource consent that would go through the council, Mr Gardiner-Hopkins said.
“With a restart, there is a greater possibility of community participation.”
“[It will be] a rejuvenated process rather than one that has been left to languish”
Judge Dwyer said it would be almost four years from when the consent was first lodged by the time a decision on the resource consent was made.
He raised concerns that there would have been new residents that had moved to the area in that time who would not have been consulted with.
Legal representatives for Wellington Airport said the company “was anxious to move on with the project but circumstances were out of its control.” [Ed: Choosing to wait until their judicial review over pilots’ safety concerns, which the airport lost in the Supreme Court, was concluded would have meant the circumstances would have been entirely in its control]
They said the company could provide an economic assessment and route development assessment by March.
They refuted Mr Gardiner-Hopkings argument that the legal process was causing stress for his clients, because they said all they were required to do was read reports. The comment drew heckles from Guardians of the Bay members in the room. [Ed: rightfully so]
Wellington Airport lawyers said they have every intention to reapply if the consent is struck-out. [Ed: intention to bully the Judge and residents, that is, but very little evidence was provided that they were actually serious about it]
Jump Jet, a developing regional airline, also submitted against the consent because, it told the court, it couldn’t attract investors until a decision was made.
Judge Dwyer reserved his decision but not before addressing members of the public in the room.
“It doesn’t matter how you look at it, it is totally unsatisfactory – it’s a bit like being in a legal spiders web.”
Outside the courtroom, chair of Guardians of the Bay Dr Sea Rotmann said she was happy with how the day’s proceedings went.
“He will hopefully agree with us that enough is enough and [after] four plus years of a direct referral, that could have been avoided [Ed: not “done”] in the first place if the airport had done its due diligence [Ed: in terms of getting CAA approval over safety right, first].”
She said the community were suffering from “litigation fatigue” after years of the drawn out process and starting again would mean less strain on community resources.
“There is a huge difference in starting it afresh with all the extra money that they are going to need to spend on publicising it – including the council – versus having all the onus on us having to drag the zombie corpses out of the graves [Ed: a colourful way of saying “stale data and proceedings] and do the work for the airport, basically.”
In a statement Wellington Airport said it “is committed to bringing the project to fruition and delivering the benefits for Wellington, the region and the country.” [Ed: translated to mean to bring benefits for its multi-national corporate shareholders by being able to fleece all users of the airport with increased charges]
“There is overwhelming support from Wellingtonians for direct long haul flights. The business community, tertiary and education institutes, tourism organisations and the creative and film sector have all submitted on the benefits they see for the region.
“We now await Environment Courts decision on the application.”