Guardians of the Bays are pleased to report that a change has finally been enacted to reduce the recreational air traffic noise that residents living in Miramar North are exposed to.
When the weather is good, planes from the Wellington Aero Club have been circling the Miramar Peninsula along what is known as the “circuit”. In doing so, they inflict the noise of their engines on thousands of residents. At times, circles exceed 50 occurrences in a day, hijacking the soundscape at the same time that residents want to enjoy being outside.
For years, the Guardians have been trying to find solutions to minimise the nuisance, meeting with the Aero Club, the Airport and WCC on several occasions. The last meeting, in April 2021, was sadly fruitless, but things are about to change.
From mid-December, a new Memorandum of Understanding between Airways and the Wellington Aero Club will be signed. This new agreement states that when recreational aircraft are departing towards the north (or on that circuit around the peninsula), their normal procedure will now be that on their Eastern turn, their right wing tip will need to be to the North of the prison (rather than at the Maupuia water towers (red circle on map below) which was their previous reference point for this purpose). If there are safety reasons where they need to turn earlier, the air control tower can require them to, however this will not be the norm.
This will take recreational air traffic further away from homes, resulting in a direct reduction in exposure to noise. While this is undeniably an improvement, Guardians of the Bays will continue to advocate for the circuit to be pushed even further north (around the inhabited north of the peninsula), a change that would completely shield residents from noise.
This win, while initiated by the Guardians, is the result of a closed discussion between Wellington Airport, Airways (the organisation in charge or managing air traffic) and the Aero Club. It is a disappointment the community was not included in the last leg of the discussion. However, we acknowledge this is a step in the right direction.
In this festive season, we would like to celebrate this welcome change, and thank all parties involved in making it happen.
Guardians of the Bays has lodged an appeal with the Environment Court against Wellington International Airport Limited’s aggressive and unsustainable expansion plan.
The Airport’s plan Notice of Requirement for the East Side Area removes the buffer area that exists between the airport and the community of Strathmore Park to the east; putting much larger jet aircraft on the edge of one of Wellington’s poorest communities,.
Guardians of the Bays Co-Chair Yvonne Weeber
Under the plan, Wellington Airport says passengers will double to 12 million by 2040 while at the same time claiming airport ‘operational’ emissions will fall by 30% by 2030.
“This is laughable: You can’t ‘airport’ your way out of a climate crisis”, Weeber said.
The environmental, health, and social costs of Wellington Airport’s plans fall well beyond just the neighbouring communities of Strathmore and Kilbirnie, says Weeber.
The community get vastly increased levels of noise, air and light pollution, and traffic congestion; New Zealand as a whole gets significantly increased greenhouse gas emissions as well; and the Airport gets to make more money off the back of those two things.
Weeber says the Airport could hardly have picked a poorer neighbourhood to bear the brunt of its proposed expansion.
This reads like a real-life retelling of The Castle: Strathmore Park is one of the most socio-economically deprived areas in Wellington, and the majority of the worst-affected locals are Kāinga Ora tenants without a voice and without the means to fight. We’ve got to help them and future generations to tell the Airport ‘they’re dreamin’.
Guardians of the Bays will ask the Environment Court to overturn the Notice of Requirement for the East Side Area expansion on a number of grounds, including –
The removal of the existing buffer from the District Plan that separates the community of Strathmore Park from the Airport’s operational activities;
The devastating effects on surrounding neighbourhoods of increased noise, reduced amenity, increased dust, visual disturbance, light pollution;
Vastly increased traffic congestion that the Airport have no concrete plans to manage;
The lack of information on how environmental impacts of stormwater, earthworks, sediment and dust are to be managed;
The lack of consideration or information on air discharge from airport operations right next to neighbouring Strathmore Park Residents pollution – including largely Kianga Ora owned social housing;
No means of residents complaining about excessive noise and environmental issues if this expansion goes ahead;
No agreement to maintain the long standing and hard contested public connection of vehicles, cycles and pedestrians between Broadway and Moa Point on the East Side of Wellington Airport; and
No commitment to support New Zealand’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions and be carbon neutrality by 2050 by Wellington Airport or airlines using their facilities.
Guardians of the Bays (GotB) is an incorporated society set up to reduce the adverse effects that arise from Wellington International Airport Limited (WIAL).
Wellington International Airport Limited (WIAL) applied for two a Notices of Requirement (NOR) of the Main Site (existing airport) and the East Side Area (ESA) to Wellington City Council (WCC) for to designate both areas for airport purposes on 25 February 2020.
GotB submitted on both the NOR Main Site and the NOR SEA.
The NOR ESA is on half the southern end of Miramar Golf Course and WIAL sought to use this recreational buffer area as tarmac for plane taxiways, movements and parking next to an extended terminal building. This land has historically provided a buffer between the Airport and the community to the east, and the need for such a buffer has long been considered a necessity by policy makers at the Wellington City Council, as evidenced under the current District Plan:
Rule 10.2.2.2 of the WCC District Plan sets out that the Council will “Provide for the ongoing use of the Golf Course and recreation activities within the buffer of land to the east of the Airport area” and recognises that “The existing Golf Course provides a buffer between the Residential Areas and the Airport operations”.
Rule 10.2.5.2 advises that the Council will “Ensure a reasonable protection of residential and school uses from Airport activities by providing controls on bulk and location, ensuring sufficient space is available for landscape design and screening, and by retaining a buffer of land of a recreational nature to the east of the Airport.”
The NOR ESA seeks to do away with this land buffer, as if they were never really any need for it in the first place, or as if it were simply a ‘nice to have’. In this regard, the NOR ESA is completely at odds with the intent of the existing WCC District Plan that set a clear expectation that a buffer was a ‘must have’.
GotB was a submitter to both NORs and opposed the East Side Area on a number of areas including climate change, noise, sustainability, environmental, health and welfare of the surrounding community. WCC’s experts initial finding was that the NOR ESA should be withdrawn unless appropriate noise and climate change conditions were developed and accepted under section 171(2)(c) of the Resource Management Act 1991.
However, the Independent Panel recommendations to WIAL after, submissions, three days of hearing and additional expert conferencing were for the approval of the NOR ESA and the NOR Main site with minor adjustments
WIAL has since approved the NOR ESA and NOR Main Site.
It is WIAL’s decision to approve the NOR ESA that GotB is appealing to the Environment Court.
Guardians of the Bays are considering their options after hearing that Wellington International Airport (WIAL) have today accepted the Notice of Requirement (NOR) and airport expansion on the Eastern Side of the Airport into the Miramar Golf Course.
The hearing of WIALs NOR expansion plans faced a large number of objections and criticism from the community and environmental groups due to the lack of consideration of climate change, community amenity (especially noise) and long term economic resilience.
The expansion is based on bogus forecasts of passenger numbers doubling by 2040, and lack of climate change modelling that doesn’t take into account significant climate change policy changes and air travel reductions through out the world.
Guardians of the Bays Co-Chair Yvonne Weeber wonders “What planet are they on?”. The expansion should be considered a pipe dream of days long past. “It’s going to cost hundreds of millions, with ratepayers possibly underwriting a significant amount of this expansion. People are reducing their air travel and it’s going to become the dictionary definition of a stranded asset. WIAL should be working with the community to increase amenity rather than reducing it with this Eastern Side Airport expansion”.
Contact: Yvonne Weeber Co-Chair Guardians of the Bays Phone 0272225390
Jeff Weir Executive Member Guardians of the Bays and Strathmore Park Resident Phone 021 0252 3031
Guardians of the Bays is disappointed by the Independent Commissioner’s recommendation to approve Wellington International Airport Limited (WIAL)’s project to expand the East Side Area and over half of Miramar golf course.
We are disappointed by this recommendation as it has failed to take into proper consideration the significant adverse effects on the immediate neighbours, Wellingtonian’s wellbeing overall, and generations of today and tomorrow. We are also disappointed in the adverse effect on ratepayers who will be asked to fund the construction of a future giant white elephant.
We firmly believe Wellington Airport should not be allowed to expand into the East Side Area in a climate change crisis as the airport is already responsible for 20% of Wellington’s green-house gas emissions. The East Side Area expansion will substantially increase Wellington Airports and related activities green-house emissions.
Guardians of the Bays is now considering its options. We will engage with members of the community, the iwi, community groups and Wellington City Council as we prepare for WIAL’s decision on this recommendation.
We are happy to be approached for comment.
Below are the panel’s final recommendation reports:
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.”
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.
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
[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.
Wellington Airport Photo: Supplied
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.”
Wellington Airport’s increasing demands for more space means it is looking at taking a big chunk of the Miramar Golf Club’s land. Miramar Golf Club could see half its land gone in as little as three years due to the expansion of Wellington Airport. Wellington International Airport Ltd revealed provisional expansion plans at the golf club on Monday night, prompting some club members to call the extension a fait accompli. A need for more aeroplane parking space was the biggest driver, but new civil aviation rules requiring additional luggage screening techniques also contributed to demands for more space.
Wellington Airport chief commercial officer Matt Clarke and infrastructure general manager John Howarth present early plans for the airport expansion.
The airport has the power to buy land as it sees fit, under the Public Works Act, but this could be appealed in court.
Airport chief commercial officer Matt Clarke said future designs had to be able to cope with the “busy hour” when highest air traffic occurred.
On the plan the purple area, which encroaches on golf course land, will be devoted to aircraft parking. The blue area is the new multi-storey car park. The yellow area is the existing terminal, and the red area will be needed for aviation support. Club members asked why the airport couldn’t simply spread out arrivals and departures to ease the demand. Clarke responded that many flights were coming from overseas, and the airport couldn’t dictate arrival times. “If you want to stay competitive with other airports and other places and other cities you have to provide for the growth in travel when people want to travel.”
A separate slide shows the airport extension expected to come into effect on the Western Apron.
On the plan a large purple area, which encroached on golf course land, would be devoted to aircraft parking, as well as catering, cargo, aviation security, apron access and fuel facilities. A proposed new road, marked with a black dotted line, ran through the existing course. Clarke said the airport had investigated possible locations where the golf club could be moved to, but hadn’t found any suitable sites. If a good location was found, the company would consider helping with the relocation. Members of the club accused the company of purposefully building itself into a corner, making expansion on to the course the only option.
New CT scanners for checked luggage will also likely prompt the expansion of the airport terminal to the south.
“You create that congestion and then you tell us we have to stop playing golf to accommodate it,” one man said.
Airport infrastructure general manager John Howarth said when Wellington Airport’s 110-hectare site was compared with Auckland’s 1600ha footprint, it was clear the operation was running on “a postage stamp”. He said two major things had changed since the 2030 Master Plan was written in 2009.
Airport infrastructure general manager John Howarth points out the area in purple, which would likely be taken from the Miramar golf course.
The first was that most airlines were opting for larger planes which legally required larger parking spaces.
“If you go back to 2009 the average number of seats on planes going to Auckland and across the Tasman was about 130, and if you look at the aircraft that we have up there at the moment that’s more than 170,” he said. Competition had already increased, with ever smaller players such as Sounds Air jumping from three aircraft in 2009 to 10 now. New security requirements would also meant the extension of some airport buildings.
“The requirement for CT-scanners to meet the European Civil Aviation Standard is significantly greater in terms of area and size. We cannot fit this within our existing footprint … We’ve investigated the area needed, which is about 3000 square metres, and determined the only place we can supply that is to the south of the terminal, and we need to deliver that by 2022.” There may also be new requirements for the scanning of carry-on luggage. An airport extension would require changes to the District Plan.
Some members of the audience asked how the Wellington City Council, which owns 34 per cent of the airport, could be responsible for making changes to the District Plan. Clarke said if there were a conflict of interest an independent commissioner would be brought in to consider the council’s decision. Golf club member Kevin Banaghan said it was up to the club to consider all the options – including the price offered for the land – and decide on the best option for the future.
March 19 (BusinessDesk) – Wellington International Airport has asked to put its runway extension resource consent application on hold for nine months, as it plans to re-ask the Civil Aviation Authority for permission for its plan.
The airport, which is two-thirds owned by NZX-listed infrastructure investment company Infratil and 33 percent by Wellington City Council, is seeking the majority of the estimated $330 million runway extension cost from central government and Wellington ratepayers. The 355-metre runway extension would be an effort to attract long-haul flights from Asia and the US.
In 2016, the CAA said a 90-metre runway end safety area (RESA) for the extended runway would be sufficient, which was disputed by the New Zealand Airline Pilots’ Association all the way to the Supreme Court, which rejected the airport’s planned RESA in December last year. International standards call for the RESA to be at least 90 metres, and, if practicable, at least 240 metres.
According to the agenda for the upcoming meeting of the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s environment committee, the airport has asked the Environment Court to adjourn its resource consent application for the extension a further nine months, giving it time to “re-apply to the Director of Civil Aviation for approval to operate the extended runway as proposed.” The court asked for comments on the request from interested parties, it said.
The council said it’s considering whether the public should be re-notified about the proposed runway extension, which drew much public attention and discussion since it was first mooted in 2012.
“Parties with an interest in the proposal have been discussing the implications of this delay, and whether the community should be consulted with again given the time that has passed since the application was originally consulted on,” the agenda says. “Should WIAL’s proposal remain unchanged then our preliminary view is that we wouldn’t consider public renotification to be necessary.”
When the Supreme Court’s ruling was issued last year, the airport’s chief executive Steve Sanderson said it was still committed to extending the runway and would review the judgment. The airport said the court’s judgment and interpretation were “encouraging and provides more guidance on what the CAA should take into account.”
In that judgment, the Supreme Court said the CAA director’s responsibility when assessing plans was to start “with what the rules require rather than with what the airport operator proposes”, and this was “not an inconsequential difference of approach”. The director had not considered an alternative safety mechanism proposed by NZALPA because it wasn’t part of the airport’s plan, which the court said was an “erroneous approach.”
The court also said when considering whether the proposal was practicable, the CAA needed to use a more nuanced approach than it had done. The director had looked at the longer RESA case as a cost/benefit analysis, comparing the costs to the airport against the increased level of safety, but should also have considered the intended benefits to the airport, it said.
“If, for example, an extension to a runway would make available to an airport operator a new and substantial income stream, that additional benefit accruing to the operator may mean that a longer RESA is “practicable”, given that it is accepted that a longer RESA will enhance safety by reducing risk,” the court said. “We should make it clear that we are not suggesting that the director must somehow take into account the benefits to a particular region that may flow from a longer runway (although we note that WIAL did invoke the substantial benefit to the Wellington region when seeking the director’s acceptance of a 90m RESA for the northern extension).”
There’s no money to build the runway extension at Wellington.
OPINION: Last Sunday in Beijing, Wellington Airport signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a Chinese construction company and the China Express airline.
Hallelujah! Wellington has the world’s biggest construction company to help extend its runway so millions of tourists can flood into Wellington.
The parties will apparently work together on the extension, develop the airport area and market Wellington as a destination. Yet as Scoop website reminded us last week, our council signed a similar MOU with a different Chinese construction company in 2015.
And remember the MOU that Celia Wade-Brown signed in China to build that lovely Chinese Garden that currently sits in Frank Kitts Park? Oops – what a civic embarrassment that has been. I’m sure there must be an old Chinese proverb about Wellington mayors who rashly sign MOUs ending up with gravel rash at election time.
But there’s just one minor problem with the plethora of memorandums that have been flowing out of China like the Yangtze. There’s no bloody money to build the runway extension.
Most of the city’s Councillors, as well as many citizens, see no need for it. MOUs are not worth the paper they are written on if there’s no money involved. They are Purex memorandums.
In the past, central government has been uninterested in funding the runway extension. Steven Joyce rightly asked why taxpayers and ratepayers should throw more than $300 million at an asset mainly owned by a private company that makes over $600m profit a year.
Will Jacinda Ardern’s belief that climate change is her generation’s nuclear free moment cause her Government to fund a runway extension, currently held up by legal action from pilots, which will greatly increase emissions? I don’t think so.
And despite the mayor, council chief executive and Wreda (Wellington’s Really Expensive Dining Agency) being enthusiastic about the latest MOU, there is little enthusiasm from city councillors.
Even one of the most pro-runway-extension candidates in the Southern Ward by-election, Labour’s Fleur Fitzsimons, said she would support a runway only if the council limited its expenditure to its share in the airport company (33 per cent), and then only if there was a robust business case, which so far there has not been.
But our mayor is right behind what many see as unnecessary corporate welfare in a city saddled with more than $500m debt. In China, Justin Lester said that despite Wellington being named as one of the most liveable cities in the world, “our front door to the world is closed because we don’t have a truly international airport”.
Really? So tourists don’t come here simply because we don’t have a long runway? I look forward to Mr Lester reducing unemployment by making the doors of WINZ offices narrower, reducing crime by building smaller prisons and increasing Wellington’s exports by building bigger cranes on our earthquake-munted port.
Last week I ran into a former colleague who works for a North Island tourism operation. He never mentioned runways, but reckoned the big challenge with Asian tourists is that many perceive New Zealand as essentially being the South Island with its stunning scenery – a “Switzerland of the South”.
Many of them give the North Island a miss. An extended runway won’t change that perception.
Queenstown Airport can be hazardous, is often closed during winter, has few night flights and, like Wellington, has most of its international flights coming from Australia. Yet it is going gangbusters.
Perhaps instead of extending the runway, Wellington City Council could commission a giant papier mache model of the Remarkables to stand in the background of Wellington Airport?
It’s interesting that so many of the city’s current issues – train strikes, buses not turning up, bus drivers with uncertain futures, blocked drains and dud street lighting, polluting diesel buses, and the runway extension – can all be traced back to once-efficient council and state assets being privatised.
Can I suggest that the majority of city councillors who believe that the runway extension is a folly ignore the MOUs and quietly take the $90m allocated for the runway extension in the Long-Term Plan and reallocate it to something better?
It can’t be that hard to find something more useful than $90m of corporate welfare.