A before and after view of the expansion project. Credit: the Airport NOR.

For many years, Wellington Airport has been making plans for expansion. In its 2040 master plan, it talks about the runway extension though this has faced fierce and, to some extent, successful opposition. The airport is also looking at expanding towards the East, over the golf course. It managed to buy half of it and is now preparing the legal framework to convert it to airport operations land. The first step consists of a change of land designation, and the consultation for that change started in November. One would wonder why there is even a consultation since, in legal terms, the airport is a Requiring Authority, and it can decide for itself what it does with the land. That goes as far as overwriting the District Plan rules. Welcome to the airport wonderland!

So in November, the public was invited to submit written submissions, the consultation got handed over to independent commissioners, documents were kept on the WCC website, and the process moved to the oral hearing stage. These hearings ran from Wednesday 19th of May until the following Friday and took place at the airport itself. Day one was given to the airport to make its case, day two was for submitters from the community and the last day was for the City Council. I attended the second day.

The room was organised in such a way that at one end, the three commissioners were facing everyone. Then a rectangle of tables occupied half of the room, with one side for four airport representatives, and the other side for WCC and its experts. The rest of the room was for members of the public and submitters. While the hearing started on time, it immediately went off-track: the previous day had run overtime, and submitters were greeted with two hours of airport propaganda. They needed the expansion they said, because, god forbid, air traffic was expected to double by 2040. They had experts on the case, they said, who had assured the board that COVID was immaterial to projected growth. Also, it wasn’t easy to be an airport in Wellington, since they had to work on a constrained land surface. And there were pesky residents living nearby, so annoying.

With such a start, the agenda had quickly left the room and was seen enjoying a cuppa at Mojo in the main terminal. Meanwhile, submitters were trying to get a slot to speak because, unlike the commissioners, unlike the airport, all of them had external commitments, and were not paid to attend the meeting. Just lucky I took a whole day off unpaid because I was invited to speak at 3.30 PM (after an initially scheduled time of 11:10 AM).

Dr Amanda Thomas.

Some submissions had a greater impact than others (I strongly encourage you to read the extracts below). The one from Dr Amanda Thomas from Strathmore argued that the airport business case was very unconvincing, and asking for a lot of sacrifice from the Strathmore Park community:

The broader context is that aviation represents 13% of Aotearoa New Zealand’s carbon dioxide emissions. If global emissions from aviation were a country, they would be one of the world’s top ten emitters. Emerging research indicates that technology is not emerging fast enough and cannot scale up quickly enough for us to keep flying as we do at the moment, and honour our Paris Agreement commitments.

Politically there is a big shift away from increasing tourist volumes (the airport wants to increase passenger numbers by 29%), and there are some indications that there is a decreasing appetite for long haul flying amongst some of our key markets. Even AirNZ is also indicating a waning appetite for a high volume approach to business.

In relation to Strathmore Park: The areas abutting the southern part of the golf course are 10s on the NZ Index of deprivation, based on the 2018 census. Communities that are 10 on this scale are the most deprived. Deprived communities are often subject to the most environmental hazards, and the psychosocial health problems that follow.

People living in economic deprivation are more likely to do shift work (ie at night) which has a huge health toll – less sleep means increased risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers, as well as mental health problems. So the increase in noise from the airport during the day would have a big impact on these folks trying to get some sleep.

There is also no way to mitigate any increase in noise outside. This means less access to outdoor spaces – whether public or private – for children, particularly children already facing deprivation in the area above the airport. Time outdoors is essential for cognitive development and to grow good citizens. Constant noise pollution may also serve as a regular reminder of a lack of climate action and lead to more eco-anxiety amongst young people.

Dr Amanda Thomas, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Studies, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington

Equally powerful was Jeffrey Weir’s submission. Jeff is another Strathmore resident and rebuked the noise expert’s evidence pushed by the airport. It is edifying:

“Laurel Smith from Marshall Day Acoustics (for WIAL) argues that if the 65 dB noise limit set out in the antiquated (1992!) Airport noise management and land use planning standard (NZS 6805:1992) is met, the health of people living near airports will be protected.” Yet Chris Day – the founding partner and principal of that same firm – has previously argued with regards to Christchurch International Airport Limited (CIAL) that there is not a sudden point at which noise effects ‘switch in’ — it is a sliding scale with adverse effects kicking in well below this limit. So Marshall Day’s conclusions then are inconsistent with their conclusions now. That is not really surprising: In the CIAL case, Marshall Day was arguing that houses should be kept distant from an airport; whereas here they are arguing that an airport should be allowed to move closer to houses. WIAL’s noise ‘experts’ are speaking with a forked tongue.

Moreover, WIAL state that they don’t wish to change the Air Noise Boundary (ANB) set out in the Standard, which is the boundary at which they must not exceed that 65 dB noise limit. Yet they are seeking an exemption to ignore a portion of the ANB and instead measure their emissions at another point. That’s because without some kind of exemption they cannot taxi their much bigger, noisier jets so close to the borders of the ESA…they would instantly be in breach. That entirely defeats the purpose of the ANB. You can’t say you will both simultaneously respect the ANB while asking permission to ignore a part of it.

The Standard itself says of itself that it is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to noise matters: “A local authority may determine that a higher level of protection is required in a particular locality, either through use of the Airnoise Boundary concept or any other control mechanism.” We, in fact, have such an additional control mechanism as part of the existing regulatory framework: A buffer between the airport and residents to the east; the need for which is specifically called out and provided for in the WCC District Plan. The Airport’s Notice of Requirement (NoR) effectively creates a hole in the District Plan into which most of this buffer disappears, and an important part of the existing noise control framework disappears along with it. Furthermore, not only will 2/3rds of that buffer be lost but noisier Jets that are currently in use will be shifted to those 2/3rds. Meaning the buffer doesn’t just become 2/3rds less effective than it is currently … it likely becomes significantly more than 2/3rds less effective.

WIAL has gone for a ‘dream’ masterplan scenario that puts a new road and bigger-jet-capable taxiway as close to residents as the land and noise limitations will possibly allow them to. There is no counterfactual. There are no half steps. There are no options with different trade-offs between increased operational efficiency and increased negative externalities on other parties. The NOR is silent on what options might exist to use some or all of the east side land for WIAL activities that increase overall operations efficiency without similarly increasing operational noise. In short, the NOR is all or nothing.

The airport also says that the airport plans “have been shared with stakeholders and clearly communicated to the Airport’s neighbouring community” and that documents asking for input into the Masterplan 2040 were ‘hand delivered’. ‘Hand Delivered’ just means ‘mail drop’. Practically no one has seen anyone from the airport first-hand – and certainly no one I have spoken to amongst my neighbours. Raukawa street is generally very poor. If ever there was a community to get creative with regard to engagement, this is it. The end result of WIAL’s “clear communication” is as you would think it would be: Everyone in my neighbourhood that I have spoken to have been largely unaware of the scope and scale of the ESA NOR. WIAL has failed to undertake meaningful consultation with affected parties, and they could hardly have picked a worse neighbourhood to do it in.

Finally, WIAL has been silent about the implications of a combination of Pest-Free Miramar and buffer plantings on airstrike and ground-strike risk. Surely the risk increase as both the number of flights increases and the number of birds thanks to a successful Pest Free Miramar programme. They have said nothing about this safety risk.”

Jeffrey Weir, Strathmore Resident

As for me, my argument focused on climate change. I tried to demonstrate that expansion, drawing more traffic, would inevitably increase emissions. Indeed, the technology to fly sustainably is far from ready and no one can predict when it will be. Even with improved fuel efficiency, the increase in traffic leads to a net increase of GHG (as found in this ICCT study). If the expansion was going ahead, it would further jeopardise Wellington’s efforts to reduce its emissions, efforts already insufficient to reach Te Atakura’s objectives. And that’s despite the fact that 92% of Wellingtonians want action on climate change, no matter what.

So Wellingtonians, let’s make it clear for you: you are against the airport expansion. Sadly, the commissioners made it equally clear climate change wasn’t in the scope of their analysis, deepening, even more, the schism between the airport and the real world.

Lastly, two elected members turned up. Thomas Nash, Green Regional Councillor, came to announce GWRC was working hard to provide the airport with a bus service, a bus service the airport dearly wants back apparently, but not until a satisfactory commercial agreement is found it seems. I still fail to understand how one can link Public Transport to the expansion, the former being required regardless, and the hearing being about the latter. Thomas Nash explained he was making a submission on behalf of the Regional Council.

Sarah Free, Eastern Ward Councillor and Deputy Mayor of Wellington made a submission in her own name, to ask, pretty please, for access between Strathmore and Lyall Bay to be maintained, something the airport can’t promise today. Yes, a Green Councillor, representative of the Eastern community, was not allowed, it seems, to speak on behalf of the community, and chose to use her time to speak about road access if the expansion happens. If you think you are misreading this, sadly you aren’t.

In a climate emergency, is making room for more planes the right thing to do?

At the time of writing, it is unclear when and how the public will be notified of the decision the panel will come to, despite numerous requests. Even if the panel decided to recommend against the expansion to the East, the airport could still go ahead, as it is a Requiring Authority. It will do so fully aware of the fierce opposition from the surrounding suburbs, and turn a blind eye to its climate responsibility or the known consequences to residents’ health.

I left this hearing with many fundamental questions unanswered:

  1. How can Aotearoa’s legal framework enables an entity to be so detrimental to its neighbourhood?
  2. How can a legal framework be so disconnected from the real world, where climate change is not a consideration?
  3. How is it possible that, in New Zealand, a democracy established in 1893, the first country in the world where women can vote, an elected member is unable to forcefully, loudly speak his or her mind, to defend community’s interests?

So what to do? If you feel outraged as I am, by this project from another age which will have so many adverse effects on immediate communities and future generations, consider supporting Guardians of the Bays (https://guardiansofthebays.org.nz/) or subscribe to their website. This community group has pushed back against the runway extension and is now pushing back against the airport expansion.

Talk to your Councillors, the Mayor, your MP, and ask them to intervene to put this project in the freezer until such time flying sustainably has become a reality.

In August last year, the Wellington City Council declared a climate emergency, and released a blueprint outlining intentions and objectives to make the city carbon neutral by 2050. With a 30 year horizon, it was hard to get past the irony of the program name “Te Atakura, First to Zero.” Hopefully, by then, Wellington will not be first to zero, as many cities will have reached that goal much earlier. But it was a start, and intentions were clearly laid out.

There was therefore a lot of anticipation about the implementation plan, meant to articulate how we planned to achieve these targets. But despite the climate emergency, there hasn’t yet been much sign of urgency.

It wasn’t till one year later (on August 6 2020), that the implementation plan was released, without any media announcement. So it was mostly unnoticed, which might have been intentional – the document is 55 pages long and its lack of ambition is shocking when considering what’s at stake. It’s empty of real actions that could change the course of Wellington’s greenhouse gas emissions and ensure the city does its part to mitigate climate change.

What should we have been able to expect from the implementation plan? There should be binding, bold and clearly aligned actions for the council to deliver, with requirements and delivery strongly linked. According to this document, most of the emissions are coming from transport, so this is where the strongest actions should have been found. Alas, the plan is full of “advocating” with plenty of “investigating opportunities”. In other words, the strategy relies on “best efforts” and “best intentions”.

On page 12, it states:

“… Transportation: At 53% of the city’s emissions, we need a rapid reduction in fossil fuel vehicles in favour of public transport, electric vehicles, shared mobility, cycling, walking and remote working. Aviation and marine account for almost 20% of this sector, but have limited immediately available solutions; therefore a move away fossil fuel road vehicles will need to be the biggest challenge of this decade.”

The airport’s emissions, which amount to 20% of Wellington transport emissions (25% of ALL emissions according to other reports) are left unaddressed. For the remaining 80%, the only substantial actions are more cycleways, and rapid transit which as we sadly know won’t see daylight for at least another 10 years and are far from under the Council’s control.

The implementation plan sees great opportunities in switching to electric vehicles which will be achieved by:

“… advocating to central Government for regulatory and policy changes for EVs and renewable electricity generation”

To say this is underwhelming is a euphemism: the Council is not committing to do anything but watch and advocate, debate and identify opportunities. Yet, countless cities have already set a firm timeframe to ban fossil-fuel from CBD streets in 2030, some by 2025.

This implementation plan was the perfect opportunity for Wellington to issue a similar statement, as suggested by Councillor Tamatha Paul:

“… Auckland City have committed to being fossil-fuel free CBD streets by 2030. I want us to declare the same thing.”

The implementation plan was the precise moment to declare exactly that, followed by a by-law to make it certain. Additionally, since EVs are the answer to less emissions, the council could have committed to make the new tunnel dedicated to EVs only, should the tunnel come before rapid transit. This is a missed opportunity.

Thankfully, the plan outlines one very sensible measure on page 18:

“Incentivising city-wide remote working – has the potential to reduce city-wide emissions …”

Yet this has been contradicted by some councillors who have called for the exact opposite after the lockdown, to “save the CBD” (suburban businesses, you’re on your own!) The Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency is even spending $75,000 to attract people back into the CBD. As does the mayor, who is calling for people to come back into the CBD:

“GREAT to be down to Covid Level One. Now let’s have all our people back in town – our business community and their employees need us all doing that! …”

Of course, the elephants in the room are the big contributors to the GHG emissions: aviation and marine activities. Here, while 92% of the public says emissions must be reduced “no matter what” (page 15), the Council decides … to do nothing, despite the 92 per cent, and despite the very real threat of climate change. This is behaviour commonly known as “procrastination’ that has led to the climate debacle we are in, a crisis so severe that experts estimate its economic cost will be 5 to 6 times the cost of COVID-19.

As suggested several times, the only way forward, if Wellington is serious about reducing its GHG, is to put a sinking cap on emissions from these big polluters. While not stopping people from flying, it would force the industry to adapt to the pollution it is responsible for. The Council should create a framework to contain the emission of its two biggest polluters, located in the middle of the city.

This is a timely reminder that, while the city has been trying to bring down its emissions, the airport’s have gone up by a staggering 45% since 2001, and will increase even more if the expansion plan goes ahead. In a time of climate emergency, the Council could commit to not issuing resource consents for the Airport’s expansion. Upon arrival of clean planes , the growth could resume, with strict conditions that emissions don’t increase.

Even with its core operations (“The Council itself”, page 36), the Council fails to set ambitious actions. It starts with a 2030 goal to convert its transport fleet to electric (page 39):

“Alongside identifying opportunities to reduce the size of the Council’s vehicle fleet, a December 2030 timeframe has been proposed to replace all Council owned fossil fuel driven cars, SUVs, vans and utes with zero emission electric replacements. Electrifying the fleet has the potential to reduce our corporate transport carbon emissions …”

While this is laudable (but note the “identifying opportunities” part), why did it stop there. There should be a change to the procurement process for subcontractors, setting up a minimum share of electrified tools, trucks and machinery to be eligible to work for the Council. A gradual increase over the years (20% minimum by 2025, 40% by 2027, etc) would give a firm indication to the industry it is time to undertake the transition, beyond the narrow perimeter of the Council owned fleet.

Finally, the implementation plan is not supported by reliable numbers. It starts, on page 12, by confusing the efforts that will be required, by which decade:

“… Council has committed to ensuring Wellington is a net zero emission city by 2050, with a commitment to making the most significant cuts (43% [from 2001]) in the next 10 years.”

The problem is that a couple of lines below, a table shows that Wellington has already reduced emissions by 10% in 2020 from 2001. With a reduction target of 43% by 2030 from 2001, the reduction between 2020 and 2030 is of 33 points. In the same table, the reduction target between 2040 and 2050 is of 32 points (from 68% to 100%). So, in this plan, the reduction efforts will be steep (33 points) between now and 2030, then relax a little (25 points), then steep again (32 points)! These numbers contradict the story that the commitment will be more significant in the first 10 years – 32 points (or a 43% reduction compared to 2001) is what’s needed to get to zero in 2050.

On page 18, the plan sums up all the 28 actions it has listed and concludes it has the potential to reduce emissions by … 14%! In other words, the implementation plan, with all its advocating, recognizes it will fail:

“This plan includes 28 committed and recommended actions with associated GHG reductions that can be measured. These actions are estimated to result in an 80,043 tCO2e reduction per annum, or a 14% reduction, in city-wide emissions from 2001 levels at 2030”

So the actions are not only unambitious and weak, but also they are insufficient to reach the targets the 2019 blueprint has set out … How can we, as a city, can be satisfied with that?

Overall, the implementation plan is a missed opportunity. It reiterates some lukewarm targets, set a year ago, and does not contain any new meaningful actions to significantly curb emissions in Wellington. It leaves the market to act on its own, and it hopes that Central Government will do the hard work, which makes the City Council a simple observer, with plenty of advocating to do.

Can Councillors and the Mayor say they are truly satisfied with it? Do they think it really lays mechanisms to curb the city’s emissions “no matter what”? Is there something more coming (another document?) which will gives confidence that climate change will not be left to luck in Wellington? Everyone knows that “economic urgency” is not enough to justify lack of action, so why is this plan so pale?

Just recently the GotB Executive prepared a submission to Parliament on the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast Track Consenting) Bill. Our submission, also presented orally by Yvonne Weeber, expressed concern about the lack of consultation with the wider community, the lack of reference to carbon reduction, and the need for a “greater good” context in which decision-making should be made. As much as we support the need for changes in regulation to enable our economic recovery, this should not be used to potentially aid polluters such as Wellington Airport International Limited, to push through environmentally and socially-destructive projects under urgency and without community consultation.

Below is the text of our full submission.

Submission by Guardians of the Bays to the 

COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Bill

 

Contact details: 

Dr. Sea Rotmann, Chair of the Guardians of the Bays  

Email: drsearotmann@gmail.com

Summary of our submission

Guardians of the Bays wish to make the following comments:

  • The COVID-19 Recovery (Fast Track Consenting) Bill should not be passed without significant amendments being made.
  • We acknowledge due to COVID-19 the government needs to undertake initiatives to recover the New Zealand economy. However, any initiatives must ensure participation in decision making under the Resource Management Act (1991) by the public and iwi. Appeal rights under the RMA must be maintained and protected.  RMA applications should recognise the need to significantly reduce carbon emissions to protect our climate.
  • Fast-tracking infrastructure projects to boost economic activity must not come at the expense of transparency, citizen engagement and protection for our environment and climate. The Bill appears to have bypassed a mandatory climate impacts assessment set up by the Government in 2019 where new laws are meant to be examined through a climate lens, to see if they will improve or worsen emissions.
  • We are extremely disappointed that the submission period for this Bill is only five days. Given the highly shortened process for comments there are sure to be other flaws and omissions in the Bill. The RMA was designed to ensure citizens had the ability to submit on notified consents that directly or indirectly impact them. This legislation will significantly reduce the ability of public participation in RMA decision making processes. It is imperative that everyone is given enough time to share their thoughts on this Bill. Five days is not enough time for the Environment Select Committee to confidently say that the public has been meaningfully consulted. 

Introduction to Guardians of the Bays

Guardians of the Bays is an incorporated society that represents over 500 concerned individuals as a broad-based residents’ group opposed to the proposal to extend the runway at Wellington International Airport Limited (WIAL). We represent the interests of many other groups, including residents’ associations, environmental and recreational groups and businesses. We are not a NIMBY group but include lawyers, politicians, policymakers, business owners, recreational clubs, marine ecologists, health professionals, architects, pilots and aviation professionals and several economists in our midst.

We do not believe that a proposed extension to WIAL will achieve the level of benefits needed to warrant the extensive investment required. We do believe that the social, cultural and environmental costs of the extension would be too high for Wellington residents and the users of the South Coast. 

Background to RMA Fast Tracking and Guardians of the Bays

Guardians of the Bays have been involved in ‘Fast Tracking’ Resource Management Act processes in the past. In April 2016, WIAL lodged a fast-tracked resource consent application with the Environment Court to extend the runway by 355 metres, at a cost previously estimated at $330 million. The resource consent application was frequently put on hold to allow time for serious safety concerns raised by the New Zealand Pilots Association (NZALPA) to be resolved. For three years, Guardians of the Bay and all other submitters were put in a waiting position having to constantly front up to the Environment Court to be told of another delay. The NZALPA concerns were never resolved satisfactorily, resulting in WIAL withdrawing its consent application in April 2019 – after the Supreme Court ruled against them. 

Through this failure of a fast-tracked resource consent process the Guardians of the Bays are of the view that all resource consents should be undertaken in a timely and considered manner.

Comments on the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast Track Consenting) Bill

The Guardians of the Bays Incorporated Society make the following comments on the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast Track Consenting) Bill.

 

  • Inconsistent with the greater good response to the COVID-19 crisis

 

This legislation is entirely inconsistent with the government’s highly constructive dealings with the COVID-19 crisis. We believe the government’s success in dealing with COVID-19 can be largely attributed to an acceptance of the need for a ‘greater good’ response. The government could argue, quite rightly in our opinion, that their response has been (and continues to be) entirely consistent with their ‘wellbeing’ policies (and their wellbeing budget).

The acceptance of there being a ‘greater good’ context in dealing with environmental issues is now urgent. We believe that the proposed legislation limits the context of effects by narrowing the scope of recognition and deliberation. This Bill takes us back to a pre-RMA situation where the needs of mainstream culture and the economy dominated (at the expense of nature and local communities). 

 

  • Employment

The purpose of the Bill (section 4) is very employment-focused, however, infrastructure projects provide few jobs per dollar invested compared to many other projects or activities. We also note that many infrastructure projects do not require RMA Consents due to existing designations.

 

  • Public and stakeholder engagement

 

By-passing the public’s usual rights in consenting processes including public consultation, hearing processes and appeals to the Environment Court is unacceptable. We believe that this is a time when you need the public to be consulted, and COVID-19 is not a situation that justifies limiting public input. Prioritising speed and expediency of the RMA consenting process must not automatically preclude public participation, especially given the scale of infrastructure development that is being envisaged.

All citizens and community groups have a stake in protecting New Zealand’s environment and climate, not just the stakeholders listed under Schedule 6 clause 17. This schedule does not list Guardians of the Bays or any other local community or environmental group that could have concerns about an RMA consent being fast-tracked in their local area. At the very least it should create an ability for local groups who must be invited to comment on a referred project.

Evidence from community groups is important in resource consent decision making. We believe that the fundamental problem with the RMA has been the failure to adequately identify and account for the context of effects, or the failure to acknowledge the significance of that which will be affected. This has gradually been acknowledged by the Environment Court insisting on better ‘evidence’ in support of participants’ claims. Where there is a ‘contest of interests’ there are incentives for participants such as community groups to gather (and pay for) proper evidence and serve the ‘greater good’ of the community. This community greater good will not be served by this Bill. 

 

  • Extend the right to appeal

 

The Bill substantially limits the persons able to lodge appeals. We believe that the process of appeal is extremely important as public consultation and participation has been restricted. 

The Court of Appeal should not serve as the final appellate court for all appeals under the Bill. We believe this is inconsistent with the legislative and constitutional standing of the Supreme Court that serves an important role in clarifying the law connected with resource management, the environment, and matters of general and public importance, for the Bill to exclude appeals to that Court.

 

  • Include climate impact as a bottom line for eligibility

 

The Bill fails to establish processes to assess projects under consideration to be fast-tracked on their potential carbon emissions, or their risk to our climate. We believe given our obligations to reduce our carbon emissions under the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019 (the Zero Carbon Act), it is unacceptable that major infrastructure projects be assessed for fast-tracking without consideration of the project’s carbon potential.

The Bill fails to mention the Climate Change Response Act 2002 at all. Eligibility for fast-tracking must take into consideration the potential climate impacts of projects. We believe the framework set out in Section 5ZN, added by the Zero Carbon Act, can serve as an important bottom line by which projects can be assessed, and empowers any person or body to take the targets and plans within the Act into account.

 

  • Limits of the Exercise of Power

 

The concentration of decision-making power to the Minister for the Environment to approve or decline a project to follow the fast-track consent path and set the terms of reference for and appoint the Panel is unacceptable. We believe that the concentration of power to a single Minister inherently compromises the rights of Māori as Te Tiriti partners, the community and risks compromising existing agreements already in place to protect Māori and community decision-making rights.

The time frames put on some of the processes in the Bill are unrealistic. We believe that these unrealistic time frames will lead to poor decision making and flawed outcomes.

 

  • Duration of the Bill

 

The 2-year period for this Bill is too long for the intended purpose. We believe that this Bill is intended to enable urgent recovery from COVID-19 and should be reviewed after a maximum of six months.

 

  • Adopt the precautionary principle

 

Declining applications does not use the ‘precautionary principle’.  We believe the criteria for the Minister for the Environment to decline applications for referral to the Panel, and circumstances in which the Panel may decline resource consents or designations must use the “precautionary principle” which is an established norm of international law. The Guardians of the Bays have experience of consents with uncertain or inadequate information and we believe these consents should definitely be declined. Not using this ‘precautionary principle on fast-tracked projects will cost the protection of our environment, climate and honouring the Crown’s role as Te Tiriti partner.

Changes required to the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast Track Consenting) Bill

We wish to make the following recommendations to change the Bill:

Public Engagement

  • Amend Schedule 6 clause 17 to permit public notification;
  • If the above amendment to Schedule 6 clause 17 is not made, expand the mandate of the panel to consult with a variety of local community groups, such as Guardians of the Bays, beyond those listed under Schedule 6 clause 17 on a project-by-project basis; 
  • At a bare minimum, expand the list of persons and organisations to be consulted with for referred projects under Schedule 6 clause 17(6j-u) to include the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, and public health and disability justice advocates. In addition, local residents and local community groups who are not directly affected parties, NGOs who have specific expertise regarding the environmental harms related to the proposed activity, should be consulted on a project-by-project basis.
  • Include the Minister of Health and the Minister for Disability Issues in Schedule 6 clause 17(4)(g).

Right of Appeal

  • That the Bill provides any individual or organisations reflecting an aggregation of community views, acting in the public interest, such as Guardians of the Bays, have rights of appeal under the Bill.
  • That the Bill provides that relevant hapū and iwi authorities have rights of appeal under the Bill.
  • That the Bill allows for appeals to the Supreme Court of New Zealand.

Climate

  • Add climate change as a bottom line and ensure that infrastructure projects which would increase emissions, are not allowed to be fast-tracked.
  • Include Climate Change Response Act, and in particular, the framework introduced by the Zero Carbon Act, in documents listed under Schedule 6 clause 9(2), which would require consent applicants to provide an assessment of the activity against the relevant legislative provisions that enshrine in law our commitment to the Paris Agreement.
  • Require applicants to disclose carbon budget of activity as part of the information required for listed and referred projects notices under Schedule 6 clause 9(1).
  • Require that an activity that causes significant carbon emissions be included as criteria for ineligibility of projects under Part 2 clause 18(2).
  • Explicitly exclude any activity that facilitates the extraction of coal, oil and gas resources under the criteria set under Part 2 clause 18(2).

Exercise of Power

  • That the Bill provides that in circumstances of uncertain or inadequate information, the Panel should adopt a precautionary approach and favour environmental protection by being able to decline the application.
  • That the repeal date of the Bill for being reviewed should be after six months of enactment.
  • Amend Part 2 clause 16(a) to require any decision that applies in whole or part to conservation land to be made jointly by the Minister for the Environment and the Minister of Conservation, not just to the coastal marine area.
  • That the Bill includes the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment as a key stakeholder.

 

News from Guardians of the Bays

Wellington International Airport’s decision to withdraw its Environment Court application should mark the end of a protracted and costly process for ratepayers, according to community organisations and concerned Wellingtonians opposed to the project.

The Airport first lodged its application for resource consent with the Environment Court in April 2016. That application was put on hold in April 2018 to allow time for serious safety concerns raised by the New Zealand Pilots Association (NZALPA) to be resolved. Those concerns have still not been resolved satisfactorily which is why the airport had to withdraw its consent application.

Co-Chair of Guardians of the Bays Richard Randerson, representing more than 600 concerned individuals as well as other community and ratepayer organisations, said that Wellington Airport had run a protracted and flawed process since they first made the extension proposal.

“There has neither been the demand nor the support for the Airport’s proposal. Wellington Airport has drawn down significant amounts of ratepayer funding for an Environment Court application that has tripped over itself at every turn.

“The Airport is saying it is simply going to redo its proposal and resubmit. Given the many millions of dollars that ratepayers have already paid to the Airport, the Wellington City Council should not commit to any further ratepayer funding for this project.

“The Airport Company’s blind determination to proceed made a mockery of the hundreds of people who submitted against the proposal and of the very real safety concerns about the safety margins that any international airport should meet. The submissions from business, community groups and individuals show up many unanswered questions,” Mr Randerson said.

Co-Chair Dr Sea Rotmann called on the Wellington City Council, representing ratepayers’ shareholding in the Airport company, to call time on any political and financial support for the proposal and put the “White Elephant” proposal to bed, once and for all.

“In this local body election year, it would be an opportune time for all candidates, including the Mayor, to stop this farce once and for all and move on with better projects for our city, like social housing, traffic congestion, infrastructure and earthquake and climate change resilience,” she said.

“The Council’s Low Carbon Capital Plan is also utterly incompatible with support for an extended runway, as aviation emissions are already almost 25 percent of our City’s emissions profile.

“The airport has never had a convincing business case and there is no evidence that airlines will actually use the runway to bring long-haul flights into Wellington. The much-touted ‘Capital Express’ route to Canberra has been canned, after publicly available loading data clearly showed the route was achieving less than a 50 percent passenger loading. And that is despite a $9 million ratepayer subsidy to promote the route.

“We call on Mayor Justin Lester to make good on his promise, made shortly after he was elected last year, that his support was dependent on demand for the route. It has been proven that the demand is not there and yet the Mayor continues to support it.

“The airport extension was going to cost up to $500m according to one expert – much more than the $300 million originally suggested when this process started, four years ago.

“Combined with all the other projects that Wellington City Councillors are also signing up to, ratepayers will be straining under increasing rates and a massive increase in the City Council’s total borrowings, projected to grow from $404.1 million to $806.5 million.

“Wellington ratepayers should not be faced with the financial risk of the extension. The Airport company’s 66 per cent shareholder Infratil have publicly said they are only willing to cover about 17 per cent of the cost.

“What has happened to the many millions of ratepayer dollars of financial support towards the technical reports which are now moot and towards fancy marketing to sell this ill-fated project? It’s time to admit that this has been a costly mistake and to focus on more important infrastructure resilience projects for our city.”

A decision by the Environment Court to proceed with Wellington International Airport’s runway extension application is disappointing given the length of delays, increasing costs and strong public opposition, according to community groups opposed to the proposal.

Richard Randerson, Co-Chair of Guardians of the Bays, representing more than 600  concerned individuals and community groups said Wellington Airport had run a protracted and flawed process.

“It is now January 2019 – more than two-and-a-half years after the application was first made and yet key questions around safety and the business case are still unanswered.

The Airport first lodged its application for resource consent in April 2016. That application was put on hold soon after as safety concerns over the length of the runway’s safety areas were still to be resolved in a separate court case initiated by the New Zealand Pilots Association. It was due to resume end of 2018 but the safety concerns have still not been resolved, with a delay of least another 5 months pending a ruling by the Civil Aviation Authority Director General.

“At the time the Airport made its first application to the Environment Court, 525 of the 776 submissions were opposed to the runway extension, expressing a wide variety of concerns, including around a bad economic case, and social and environmental impacts. The Airport’s white elephant has cost ratepayers many millions of dollars already and makes a mockery of the hundreds of people who submitted against the proposal,” he said.

Co-Chair Dr Sea Rotmann said the delays had already added further costs to the ratepayer bill and put serious stress on the affected parties.

“We were grateful to Judge Dwyer, who was very sympathetic in his ruling and made the highly-unusual decision of awarding us costs. He admitted that his decision to grant the airport the initial extension to the case meant the ‘Sword of Damocles’ would continue to hang over the community.

“He also agreed with us that Wellington Airport’s continued requests for extensions undermined the direct referral process and that its technical data, which will now not be heard until at least mid-2020, will become outdated, being almost 6 years old by then.

“The Judge also wanted to make sure that any other affected parties, like people who recently moved into the area or people along the large proposed infill transport route will also be able to get a say in court.”

“Where we respectfully disagree with the Judge’s ruling, is that the continued stress of  litigation would not disappear even if he struck out this case. He accepted the airport’s notion of “immediately re-applying” as soon as they receive consent for a short Runway End Safety Area from the CAA Director General. For one, it is unlikely that this will be the case, and if it is, there is a good chance of another judicial review which will drag on for several years like the last one. We also think it was preposterous for the airport to claim that these events were “unforeseen”. It was their decision to apply for resource consent even though serious questions over the safety of the proposal were still being discussed in court. Secondly, there is a lot of effort and cost involved to start a new direct referral process, and it is not a given that the Council will grant its permission, again.”

Richard Randerson called on Wellington City Council – as a significant Wellington Airport shareholder – to “call time” on the proposal on behalf of all ratepayers.

“Wellington Airport has not done its homework and the Council has already given them many millions of dollars of ratepayer money for a business case and application that don’t stack up.

“Combined with all the other projects that Wellington City Councillors are signing up to, including the Convention Centre, the cycle ways and the new transport strategy, ratepayers will also be straining under increasing rates and a massive increase in the City Council’s total borrowings, projected to grow from $404.1 million to $806.5 million[1],” he said.

“Why should Wellington ratepayers be asked to shoulder the financial risk of this proposed extension, when the Airport company’s 66 percent shareholder Infratil, will not. They have publicly said they are only willing to cover about 17 percent of the cost.

“Our Mayor and Councillors should be advocating for the long-term interests of all Wellingtonians, not for a multi-national billion dollar company. The reduction in international traffic and closure of the Singpore Airlines’ Capital Express route show there simply isn’t enough demand.

“The Mayor wants Wellington to become a Low Carbon Capital. With almost 25 percent of our emissions being related to the airport, this extension would lead to the opposite.”

[1] John Milford: DominionPost (24 June 2015) http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/comment/69627041/wellington-city-council-needs-to-curb-its-rate-rises

 

A few years ago, I wrote a blog about what it means to be a Moa Pointer. As much as I waxed lyrically about the “best sunset spot in town” and our amazing, if often endangered natural taonga, I have to highlight my prescience when writing these words: “It is important to note that not going through the fast-tracked board of inquiry process is an admission that they know they would fail. Going through the more protracted Environment Court hearings has nothing to do with a ‘more open and transparent process’ and everything with buying themselves time and bleeding the opponents dry due to the high costs associated with fighting a project like this through the Court. It also means many more years of this existential threat hanging over our heads, which is stressful in many ways – emotionally, financially and physically.”

Why is this so prescient and what has being a Moa Pointer got to do with the Environment Court?

Well, as we found out in yet another court hearing yesterday, this damned process will likely drag on for at least another 1.5 years – a total of 4 years since the airport first lodged its consent application – before we even start hearing evidence! Damned, even by Judge Dwyer who wryly said that the “road to hell is paved with good intentions” when commenting on his decision to grant extensions of the case to the airport in the past. He also said that “There will be no satisfactory outcome when a final decision on the Wellington Airport extension resource consent is released” – meaning that either the airport, or the community will be upset with his decision to strike out (or not) the application.

To be honest, I am not so sure that that is indeed the case. Even though the airport argued against our motion to strike out – displaying the usual arrogance and contempt for the affected environment, residents and communities fighting to preserve this special place in Lyall Bay – it certainly did not put much effort into proving it was serious, or why they needed to continue with this farce for another couple of years. In fact, the laziness with which they approached this hearing was made abundantly clear when they provided only one “technical” affidavit saying all their reports based on data collected in 2014 were still “tickety-boo” (as Judge Dwyer joked). This came from a planner based in Dunedin who neither had any of the technical expertise to comment on the highly technical 5000 pages of report data, nor much, if any knowledge of the local environment in Lyall Bay – and the many changes that happened here since 2014.

What was worse was that the airport’s counsel took it upon herself to ask to strike out the local resident’s affidavits, “because they are just opinions (of 3 residents with expertise in marine ecology and anthropogenic impact assessments, local planning issues, and surf impacts) and over exaggerate their prejudice”. She also thought it wise to quip that we “didn’t have to waste our time talking to the media or writing blogs, all you had to do was read the monthly updates from the airport.” As Radio NZ pointed out, this dismissive comment drew heckles from us Guardians in the audience. And rightfully so.

Our wonderful and brilliant lawyer James Gardner-Hopkins, who is also a magnificent dresser btw!, steered clear of any such direct barbs against “his friends” in the opposing counsel. In fact, he even helped argue their case when Judge Dwyer made it clear that the court took any potential issue for new residents and affected parties not being able to partake in the court case (as submissions for s274 parties had already closed over a year ago), very, very seriously. Unfortunately, there is a provision in the Act, as James highlighted, that means that new affected parties can become new s274 submitters. Fortunately for us (but not for the airport and the court’s admin system), this means that every Wellingtonian living along the long traffic route proposed for transporting infill and rubble, for several years, every 2 minutes, night and day would now be eligible to add their name to the list of parties who want to be heard by the court.

Dr Sea and Counsel James Gardner-Hopkins in matching cowboy boots!

The airport’s counsel, immediately scoffed at the notion that many new s274 submitters would clog the court process up further (we say: Bring it ON!). It also said it would be “easy” to provide updates to ALL 25+ technical reports (by their authors or, actual technical experts) within 2 months of receiving consent from the Civil Aviation Authority Director General (DG). Seeing it took them many, many years to provide these, largely half-baked reports based on very limited data (because Cook Strait is just too tempestuous to enable easy data collection), and that they have not once actually provided any information, including the “monthly” updates required by court, on time, all this posturing sounded a lot like “fake news”.

It was really heartening to hear Judge Dwyer finally refer to the “Elephant in the Room” (climate change, what else?), which the airport in its infinite wisdom managed to ignore almost entirely in the whole 5000 pages of “technical evidence”. Seeing their counsel said that the economic evidence was probably the most important evidence for the process – despite it being no more than a cost-benefit analysis, largely decried by independent experts, and based on less science than voodoo or astrology – it bears noting (as the Judge did), that nowhere in their reports do they show any realistic impacts on costing for a project that, at their own admission, is likely not going to be built until 2030-35. Do they really think that international air traffic to Wellington will not be affected by global measures to combat runaway climate change? Yet nowhere in their costings or engineering models and reports did they account for the massive changes we can expect to happen over the coming decade.

In addition, our political leaders – even in our Council led by the “Big 8 ideas” Mayor Lester – certainly do not seem to have quite the same appetite to throw hundreds of millions (having so far already wasted around 13+ million dollars) of rate- and taxpayer dollars at a multi-national corporation which is already responsible for 25% of this hopeful “Low Carbon Capital’s” greenhouse gas emissions. We do not believe that the new Council, after next year’s elections in which this will surely become a topic of interest, will want to entangle the already hugely complex and contested Ngauranga to Airport transport corridor with the airport’s rubble trucks clogging up any improvements.  Indeed, the Council was conspicuous by its absence at the strike out hearing.

We believe the airport should have to re-apply for consent once the safety issue is finally addressed – and there is a good chance:

  1. the DG will need to undertake a rule change, which could take years;
  2. the DG will disagree with the airport that its short RESA is perfectly safe and move in line with international obligations and the Supreme Court decision; and
  3. even if he does agree with the airport, that there will be another judicial review (the last one took over 3 years and ended up with a loss in the Supreme Court for the airport).

Either way, the chances for them to get the unopposed go-ahead on a short RESA in May 2019 is close to nil.

It was really quite offensive for the airport’s counsel (and also the Judge, by contesting that the airport would simply “just apply again, in June right after the DG decision”) to dismiss the continued stress to our communities as “an exaggeration”. Yes, this Damocles Sword will hang over our heads until the airport and its surrounding access routes (and our homes) are under water, but there is a huge difference between being forced into years of court litigation vs just watching the airport’s latest chicaneries, closely. It is very costly to retain counsel, even if it is just to monitor the airport’s infrequent and insufficient reports (and sometimes we have to pay our counsel to try and get more information from the Ombudsman). It was very costly to find experts and get them to read the technical reports. It will be more costly to bring them up-to-scratch years later and ask them to comment on updated reports. There definitely is such a thing as litigation fatigue, and Judge Dwyer agreed with James on that. The longer a court process is dragged out, the more likely it is for the community to give up, to move away, to sell, or even die. And this seems to be what the airport wants – outlive us all by drowning the opposition in endless litigation.

In contrast a fresh application, if it has to happen, will provide a rejuvenated process, with all the publicity that comes with it, will mean new submitters and opponents will find out about the updated facts, we can look afresh at what has changed over the last 5+ years (socially, politically, economically, environmentally), we can start having transparent, public discussions about the need for such an extension, anew. Otherwise, all we get is a notice in the newspaper that new submitters can join the living dead, aka the stale court proceedings, which will have already dragged on for almost half a decade by then.

Enough is enough! We have played by the rules, paid a very heavy price and tried to do everything that is right to follow good process. The airport has never repaid us, or the court, with the remotest courtesy to do so as well. Their continued cries of victimhood (whilst denying the real victims as such) because it was all so “unforeseen” are a cruel joke. This entire debacle is 100% the airport’s fault: had they waited until the judicial review over the safety issues was completed, this court process would never yet have started.

We would have had 4 years of peace, not have had to waste tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers and experts, not having to use our precious spare time to pour over thousands of pages of (now outdated) technical data, squabble with politicians and be attacked and smeared in the media as NIMBYs and sell-outs… all of which at great personal costs. The only victims here are the South Coast community and its users, not the airport, and not the politicians who threw millions of ratepayer dollars at Infratil and Singapore Airlines, with nothing to show but a dying white elephant.

Media Release by the Guardians of the Bays

An announcement that hearings for Wellington Airport’s runway extension could be potentially delayed till late 2019 should be a final nail in the coffin for the Airport’s proposal, according to community and ratepayer groups concerned about the mounting costs to Wellingtonians.

Guardians of the Bays, representing almost 600 community and ratepayer organisations and concerned individuals, said it was time for the Airport to realise the project was unviable – from both, a cost and community perspective. The Environment Court resource consent process for the extension was put on hold in April and was due to resume this month. Guardians of the Bays Co-Chair Richard Randerson said: “Wellington Airport has tried desperately to stack up its claims that there will be an economic benefit from the proposed airport extension for Wellington without success. It has drawn down significant amounts of ratepayer funding for its Environment Court application.These delays will just be adding further costs to the ratepayer bill. There is already evidence that the proposal is likely to cost much more than the $300m originally suggested four years ago when this process started – up to $500m according to one expert.”

“In addition, much of the Airport’s evidence will now be completely out-of-date with the considerable environmental and economic changes that have occurred in the nearly six years since this whole process started. The Airport’s white elephant has cost ratepayers millions of dollars already and makes a mockery of the hundreds of people who submitted against the proposal. More than 700 submissions were made to the Environment Court on the application and the majority of these were against the proposal. At the same time that the Government is taking the lead and focusing on spending that improves the lives of Wellingtonians and all New Zealanders, Wellington Airport’s plans will also displace Wellington social housing tenants as it forges ahead with its plans despite every conceivable benefit having been shown to be wishful thinking”, he said.

“Wellington Airport has been trying to acquire properties on Calabar Rd, along the eastern side, including nine social housing units owned by Wellington City Council, which are home to 30 residents. It has also been buying up properties at Moa Point, where residents will be most severely affected by the proposed extension. Co-Chair Dr Sea Rotmann said it was time for the Mayor and Councillors of Wellington City to cut their losses on the proposed airport extension and move on. “It could be late 2019 before the Environment Court process is resumed under this scenario. That is six years since this all began – and just too long for the residents, whanau and communities potentially affected by this project.”

“The Airport is trying to do something that just doesn’t add up. These delays come on top of the announcement earlier this year that Singapore Airlines had canned its much-touted ‘Capital Express’ route to Canberra. As much as we might wish for it, there just isn’t enough demand for long-haul international flights out of Wellington and the social and environmental costs are just too high. “Wellington ratepayers have already spent $9 million dollars of ratepayer money to promote the route, yet publicly available loading data clearly shows that the Capital Express achieved less than a 50 percent passenger loading. In a meeting with Wellington Mayor Justin Lester shortly after he was elected last year, he was clear that the Council’s support of the Wellington Airport extension was dependent on demand for the route.”

“Wellington ratepayers are being asked to shoulder a risk that Wellington International Airport and Infratil, who have a 66 percent share in the Airport, will not enter into because they know it’s not worth it. Infratil has indicated it is only willing to cover about 17 percent of the cost but is demanding Wellingtonians and taxpayers foot the rest of the bill. The additional ratepayer millions wasted on advertising this white elephant and collecting data for technical reports which will be long out-of-date, will never be recovered. It’s basically money that got dumped into Cook Strait.”

“The proposed airport extension is not about what is good for Wellington. It is about what is good for Wellington Airport. It’s high time to stop this farce and move on with better projects for our city, like social housing, traffic congestion, infrastructure and earthquake and climate change resilience,” she said.

Legal matters can be confounding to the lay person, to say the least, and the ongoing saga of the New Zealand’s Air Line Pilots’ Association (“NZALPA”) vs the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Director (“the Director”) and Wellington Airport International Limited (“WIAL”) has been more confounding than most. This saga started back in at least 2013, when WIAL asked the Director of Civil Aviation to consider allowing a 90m minimum runway safety area (“RESA”) when extending the runway into Evans Bay, to the North. The Director agreed, based on WIAL’s provided cost-benefit analysis, that such an extension would only need the minimum 90m RESA. However, he also said that clear costings had to be provided first, and that the ruling was provisional only. NZALPA’s peer review of the cost-benefit analysis (CBA) provided by WIAL found significant short-comings (as have all other CBAs provided by WIAL since!).

When the airport decided to instead put the extension South, into Cook Strait in 2014, it went back to the Director with assessments for a 100m, 200m and 300m extension, at similar costs as the $1 million per linear metre quoted to the North. The Director again accepted the airport’s reasoning that a 90m minimum RESA was sufficient. However, since this decision, WIAL has further changed the design to now be 355m to the South, at a cost of $330m. Shouldn’t this change have required another decision by the Director?

Instead, NZALPA had to go to court to get the Director to reconsider their decision, as the pilots asserted he had erred in law when considering cost to WIAL instead of safety when deciding what was a “practicable” safety margin when extending the runway. The initial High Court ruling went with the airport and Director, but a Court of Appeal then overruled the High Court Judge, meaning the final step was for WIAL and the Director to take NZALPA all the way to the Supreme Court. Which they did, in mid-2017, thus halting the Environment Court process we had been embroiled in since mid-2016.

Now, in the meantime, WIAL continued to push ahead with its runway extension as if this quite major safety issue was of no consequence to their plans. Indeed, they originally never even provided the Director with any other safety considerations, such as a longer RESA or an engineered material arresting system (EMAS), such as crushable concrete. The latter could have meant a shorter RESA than the “240m minimum… if practicable” that was prescribed as a standard in the 2004 Civil Aviation Act. However, the airport never bothered to even investigate such an option and the Director, wrongly as it turned out, simply took the airport’s considerations without asking for more safety options to be provided. On page 28-29 of their decision, the Supreme Court states:

Starting with what the Rules require rather than with what the airport operator proposes is not an inconsequential difference of approach. Rather, it is a matter of mindset, and the Director’s mindset in this case is illustrated by his first reason for refusing to consider an EMAS solution, namely because it was not part of WIAL’s “decision”, so that he did not have any information about it. It may be that an EMAS is not a viable technique at Wellington and could be quickly dismissed, but the Director did not turn his mind to its merits even though it was a matter raised by NZALPA in the course of consultations. He did not see that as part of his function, which was, as he perceived it, focused on assessing what WIAL had proposed. This is an erroneous approach.

In the end, the Supreme Court was very clear in its decision when it sided with NZALPA against WIAL and the Director:

By basing his decision on a cost/benefit analysis, the Director acted as if the Act had not been amended in 2004. To that extent, we consider he erred in law. The Director should consider that application in the light of the Court’s reasoning.

The Supreme Court also rejected WIAL’s frankly ridiculous claim that the Court of Appeal’s ruling would mean that current operations were threatened due to the minimum 90 m RESA at Wellington’s, and several other AustralAsian airports:

Counsel for the Director and for WIAL argued that if a 90 m RESA was not acceptable for an extended runway, it was therefore not acceptable for the runway as presently configured. We do not accept the hypothesis that the Director’s determination in relation to a proposal to extend the runway has necessary consequences for current, previously accepted arrangements at the airport. This is because we consider that what is “practicable” must be assessed in the particular context in which the issue is raised.

So, to sum up, WIAL wasted everyone’s time and money, since 2013, by simply ignoring its obligations to the safety of its passengers. The Civil Aviation Director erred in devolving his decision to WIAL as the operator, despite the 2002 warning by experts that “the incentives and interests of airport operators and regulators do not always coincide. Clearly, in promulgating the Rules, the Minister considered that an airport operator’s decision as to RESA length should be subject to independent regulatory scrutiny.” What is worse, is that the Association for pilots and air traffic controllers – whose primary mandate is passenger safety! – was dragged through several years of unnecessary court proceedings and smeared by WIAL in the media in the process (as patsies of Air New Zealand, among other things).

And last, but certainly not least, the millions of ratepayer dollars that were wasted on a half-baked proposal which may have to go back to the drawing board, pending on another CAA Director decision. The Guardians of the Bays and dozens of other groups have also spent 1000s of volunteer hours and $10,000s of dollars fighting the runway extension in an Environment Court case which was utterly premature – as the Judge pointed out to WIAL. WIAL forced the public through the convoluted process of making 100s of submissions, finding experts and lawyers and reading 5000 pages of technical reports, when it clearly knew this decision was still outstanding and could jeopardise the whole project. We are glad that someone has finally stepped in and stopped this madness before more costs are paid by the community.

However, there is now an update to the proceedings: WIAL has asked the Environment Court yet again to postpone its hearings and is trying to get the CAA Director (again!) to agree to the same 90m RESA this entire rigmarole started. Even though the Environment Court Judge was clearly unhappy with WIAL’s abuse of everyone’s time and resources, it did give them until October 31, 2018 to get another decision on the RESA. It does seem pretty unlikely, after the Supreme Court rebuke, that the CAA Director will simply take WIAL’s word into account that it is too costly to provide a longer RESA or EMAS – despite the obvious safety benefits that would entail (the difference between a 90m and 240m RESA in undershoots that aren’t captured is 17% and in overshoots it is 27%!).

Even though WIAL does acknowledge it could install a 130-140m RESA by taking out the grass bank at Cobham Drive and replace it with a structural retaining wall (which they think is “easy” to get a resource consent for), it is basically pushing the CAA Director to make the same flawed decision based on the same flawed arguments – that the financial benefits to the airport should override the international safety requirements New Zealand is signed up to. We hope that the Director will take the Supreme Court decision and reminder to his responsibilities, particularly in light of the changes to the Civil Act in 2004 (which now include not just safety and security, but also access and mobility, public health and environmental sustainability) more seriously and will deny WIAL the less-safe option. Although – when the Guardians asked, under the Official Information Act, to see the whole application by WIAL, the CAA Director simply refused, quoting sections of the law but no reason how these sections would apply in this instance. We have no choice but to ask the OIA Ombudsman to get involved. And so, the saga continues…

An announcement today that Singapore Airlines has canned its route to Canberra is a stark admission that there is not enough demand for international flights out of Wellington, say those concerned about the ongoing spending of ratepayer and taxpayer money on the venture.

Guardians of the Bays, representing more than 600 community and ratepayer organisations and concerned individuals, is concerned that public money has been used to subsidise the route despite it being obvious for some time that it was not successful.

Guardians of the Bays Co-Chair Richard Randerson said it was no surprise that Singapore Airlines was pulling the plug on the Wellington – Canberra – Singapore route.

Despite spending at least $3 million dollars of ratepayer money to promote the route, publicly available loading data clearly shows that the route achieved less than a 50 percent passenger loading. That is great if you like lots of seats on your plane, but it isn’t great for ratepayers who have been subsidising this route for more than a year – for no discernible benefit. Canberra has a similar-sized population to Wellington, and if Canberra cannot muster a payload, it is unlikely Wellington can do anything better.

Latest figures from international monitoring sites show the much touted Capital Express – or Wellington to Canberra flights – have not been working. The latest figures from the Australian Government’s Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development show that in August 2017, the Singapore Airlines Wellington to Canberra flight had an average passenger load factor of 128 passengers per flight (based on 16 return services). That is a load factor of 48 percent.

Further figures show that international passenger traffic at Wellington Airport was up only 1.9 percent in the 12 months to September 2017, with Australian visitors actually down 2.2 percent in the same period.

Wellington Airport has tried desperately to stack up its claims that there will be an economic benefit from the proposed airport extension for Wellington without success. It has drawn down significant amounts of ratepayer funding for its Environment Court application and for the Singapore Airlines subsidy and promotion.

“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 proposed airport extension is not about what is good for Wellington. It is about what is good for Wellington Airport and its multi-billion dollar owner Infratil.

Co-chair Dr Sea Rotmann said it was time for the Mayor and Councillors of Wellington City to cut their losses on the proposed airport extension and move on.

In a meeting with Wellington Mayor Justin Lester, shortly after he was elected last year, he was clear that the Council’s support of the Wellington Airport extension was dependent on demand for the route.

This change of route proves that Wellington Airport and Singapore Airlines are scrambling to find a route that works economically.  It is a shame that Singapore Airlines has got caught up in this debacle as it has an excellent brand but appears to have been captured by vested interests.

“It is time for our community leaders to follow the Government’s lead and focus on spending that improves the lives of Wellingtonians and all New Zealanders, not just the few,” she said.

A little over week ago, a white Subaru got washed off the Moa Point breakwater by a ‘rogue’ wave. Some reports said the car’s occupants were fishing “at the popular fishing spot”, whilst eye (and social media) witnesses said that 3 people were actually inside the car when the wave struck them. They had to smash their way out through the windows and were lucky to get out of the wild ocean alive.

Photo: Mark Boucher, Stuff

This is not the first time a car was swept off that breakwater, and people have died there in the past, according to locals. An airport spokeswoman wrongly claimed that the metal safety barrier had “recently been damaged by the storm or vandalised”. Now, that ‘barrier’ has long been broken, and the breakwater safety sorely neglected by the airport. As with the entire southern end of the runway, the breakwater is an eyesore full of dangerous rocks, akmons and crevices and open to the pounding southerly waves. We can often watch giant waves break over the entire runway end and the breakwater, with holes spurting water several metres high.

Photo: Fritz Schöne

Photo: Fritz Schöne

Photo: Radio NZ

Photo: Radio NZ – this was from 2015 and you can see that the barrier arm going to the actual breakwater was already damaged

We also often watch people fishing off the breakwater, including taking their vehicles up there. Most fishermen aren’t foolhardy enough to do so in southerly swells but rubberneckers have frequently be seen running away or getting drenched in waves breaking over the runway and breakwater. It is an extremely dangerous area.

Photo taken during massive swell in June 2015 – clearly, no barrier was there to stop public access

Photo: Stuff

However, when it comes to finding the authority responsible for ensuring public safety, the plot thickens considerably. In a series of tweets between Dr Sea Rotmann, our Co-Chair and a Moa Point local, the @lyallbaynz account, Eastern Ward Councillor Chris Calvi-Freeman and Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC), we tried to uncover who ultimately was in charge – both, of removing the drowned vehicle which was visibly polluting Lyall Bay with debris (and most likely also toxic fluids like oil, petrol and air conditioning fluids etc.), and for taking responsibility for granting unsafe access to the area.

Greater Wellington was the only Council who responded to our inquiries (except for City Councillor Calvi-Freeman) and finally sent commercial divers to the scene to recover the vehicle (4 days later).

Both the Harbourmaster and the Police, which seemed to give mistaken (?) statements that nobody was in the vehicle at the time it was washed off, did not seem to be interested in recovering the vehicle, as it was “the owner’s responsibility”. We have to question this blasé attitude to quite serious pollution of one of our most used city beaches – the car was clearly a write-off so why would the owners go to considerable trouble and expense to get it recovered if no one forced them to? Debris was floating on the surface and washed up on Moa Point beach, around the corner. Surely, the waves could also easily carry it onto the surf break or Lyall Bay beach where it could be a hazard to the public. Would the Regional Council have finally sent someone if the community and Councillor Calvi-Freeman hadn’t been making inquiries?

Secondly, and more concerning seeing that people have died by being swept off that breakwater in the past, is the very disingenuous attitude by the airport erroneously claiming that the barrier was only recently destroyed (see photos from 2015, above) and that it was none of their problem “as the land was owned by someone else”. Reading their “urban design assessment” which forms part of their (halted) Environment Court resource application – halted, by the way because the airport thought it could get away with extending the runway without proper safety areas, which the Supreme Court just agreed with the Pilots’ Association was not sufficient – it becomes clear that the land is indeed owned by the Wellington City Council (WCC). What also becomes clear, however, is that the airport has built the breakwater and sea wall and been “maintaining” it by dumping rocks and akmons off it – without seemingly having a clear permit or resource consent to do so.

The Surfbreak Protection Society has pointed out in the past that this practice by the airport has severely degraded the quality of the “Corner” surf break in Lyall Bay. Their detailed research uncovered that, even though WCC is holding resource consents for work on the sea wall, it was not them but the airport who had been conducting the dumping of rocks in 2015 – without the Council’s clear knowledge. The surf community is in talks with the Council and Airport to have a vertical sea wall reinstated along the length of Moa Point Rd alongside the airport as it was back in the 50’s – 70’s, when the Corner was at its optimum performance. After GRWC directed SPS to have meeting with WIAL last September, Greg Thomas from WIAL noted that the continual dumping of rocks “may not be as cost-effective” as constructing a permanent vertical wall.

In addition, as part of the ‘mitigation’ for destroying one of our most beloved South Coast tāonga, a 3m cycle way and “promenade” is promised to be built by the airport, at the breakwater.

It is quite clear from looking at these imagined drawings, that none of the so-called “experts” the airport has paid with ratepayer dollars have bothered really visiting the area – especially in a Southerly. If they had, they’d have drawn the pedestrians and dogs being washed into the broiling sea and drenched by towering waves! With the benches and access to sea level from the rocks, there is absolutely no way this area can be cordoned off to the public in dangerous conditions. The Council has also recently announced that it was thinking of moving the Lyall Bay car park, near the surf break, as coastal inundation just made it too vulnerable to being repeatedly washed out.

Photo: Uli Beck from Spruce Goose

Photo: Radio NZ

Why does the Council let the airport play hazard with public safety and amenity to this extent, even paying them to do so (for example, by providing millions for the – now useless(?) – expert reports)? Why does it then not hold the airport responsible for any issues related to public health and safety and the clear reduction in amenity values, like the surf break? Who is actually in charge here and does someone else have to die before the authorities will finally do something about this mess?