By Tom Hunt and Thomas Manch, January 8, 2019
Sea Rotmann has six more months of uncertainty after a decision allowing Wellington Airport long-lingering runway extension application to remain on hold until May.
Further down Rotmann’s seaside road, it is six more months of sleepless nights and “wondering what the hell is going to happen” for Martyn Howells.
The Moa Point residents’ lives have been thrown deeper into limbo after the Environment Court agreed to keep Wellington Airport’s resource consent application on hold, while it waits for a decision from the CAA director.
In that December decision, the court made the unusual move of ruling against Guardians of the Bays – the group opposing the extension – but awarding them costs.
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Rotmann, a doctor in marine ecology by trade who has lived on Moa Point Rd for 15 years, supplied an affidavit to the court.
These past few years as the application to extend the runway worked its way through courts has seen her become an expert in legal processes. It seems she could talk in legalese for hours.
She appreciated the court awarding costs but granting the extension meant more hell for residents. If the airport had been forced to go back to square one there would have been a break from the constant litigation, she believed.
“It would remove stress for us for several years not being involved in litigation.”
She had planned to live there for the rest of her life and planned to build a a “super efficient hobbit hole” in the hill above. Instead, she feels like she is living in The Castle, a cult movie about a man battling an airport trying to take his home from him.
“I do feel like this is David versus Goliath.”
A few homes down, Howells paraphrased a judge: “The sword of Damocles has been hung over our heads”.
“It gives you sleepless nights … you don’t know where you are going to end up. It’s just the uncertainty.”
If the runway went ahead he would likely be allowed to stay in his home but it would mean his view across Cook Strait to the Kaikōura ranges would be replaced by a runway. There would also be years of construction noise.
To Rotmann the noise would make it either legally, or practically, impossible to stay in the home she hoped to die in.
And the Environment Court has shown some contrition for Rotmann and Howells’ position, in granting the Guardians of the Bay costs despite their losing the case.
“We appreciate that it is unusual to reserve costs in favour of unsuccessful parties, however their applications were made for understandable reasons … They should not have to carry any cost in this situation.”
Lawyer for Guardians of the Bay, James Gardner-Hopkins, asked the court to strike out the airport’s extension request, but was rejected.
A 90-metre runway end safety area at each end, as part of the prior resource consent application, was ticked off by Civil Aviation Authority’s director, but overturned by the Supreme Court in December 2017.
Wellington Airport said it would resubmit its application to the director, hoping for an October 31, 2018 decision. This did not happen, and an extension until May 31, 2019 was sought.
The court determined the resource consent would remain “on hold” until May, despite it being “the less unsatisfactory of the two unsatisfactory options before us”.
The court also noted “significant concern” with the accuracy of technical reports underpinning the application, now three-to four-years out of date.
“We have no doubt that many of the participants in these proceedings will have ‘had enough’.
“It reflects badly on the administration of justice when proceedings become as prolonged as these have and we accept that there is a consequential adverse and real effect on the community which arises as a result of the delay.”
Steve Sanderson, chief executive of Wellington International Airport, said the decision was positive “especially given the overwhelming support from Wellingtonians for direct long haul flights.”
“As with any large infrastructure project of this nature, we’ve always recognised this is a long-term process and there will be challenges along the way.
“Our team has also worked tirelessly to get the runway extension to this point and we remain committed to bringing the project to fruition and delivering the benefits for Wellington, the region and the country.
“We now await a decision by the Civil Aviation Authority on its review of the length of the runway end safety area for the project.”
* An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Wellington Airport had been granted six extra months to submit resource consent documents