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

 

By Tom Hunt and Thomas Manch, January 8, 2019

Sea​ Rotmann has six more months of uncertainty after a decision allowing Wellington Airport long-lingering runway extension application to remain on hold until May.

Further down Rotmann’s seaside road, it is six more months of  sleepless nights and “wondering what the hell is going to happen” for Martyn Howells.

The Moa Point residents’ lives have been thrown deeper into limbo after the Environment Court agreed to keep Wellington Airport’s resource consent application on hold, while it waits for a decision from the CAA director.

In that December decision, the court made the unusual move of ruling against Guardians of the Bays – the group opposing the extension – but awarding them costs.

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Sea Rotmann from Moa Point is unhappy, as the resource consent process for Wellington Airport's runway extension has been granted another six months.
ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF
Sea Rotmann from Moa Point is unhappy, as the resource consent process for Wellington Airport’s runway extension has been granted another six months.

​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.

The view from Te Raekaihau Point with an extended Wellington Airport runway.
WELLINGTON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT/SUPPLIED
The view from Te Raekaihau Point with an extended Wellington Airport runway.

 

“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.

Sea Rotmann standing in front of her Moa Point home.
ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF
Sea Rotmann standing in front of her Moa Point home.

 

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.

An artist impression of the improvements planned for Moa Point Rd as part of the Wellington Airport runway extension project. The design features a new shared promenada, seating, a photography area and water access platforms.
WELLINGTON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT/SUPPLIED
An artist impression of the improvements planned for Moa Point Rd as part of the Wellington Airport runway extension project. The design features a new shared promenada, seating, a photography area and water access platforms.

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

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.

Residents and ratepayers group Guardians of the Bays has welcomed indications from Wellington Mayor Justin Lester that the proposed $300+ million Wellington Airport runway extension is not a priority for the City Council’s 2017-18 spending.

Guardians of the Bays Co-Chair Dr Sea Rotmann said the group was pleased to see Lester making moves to better prioritise the spending of ratepayers’ money.

“The fact that the Mayor has commissioned a review and wants to cut spending by $8 million is good news for Wellington ratepayers, but at the same time there are a lot of projects demanding Council support and we still need a firm list of priorities. (more…)

We have less than 3 weeks to collect submissions to the Environment Court that are opposing the proposed runway extension into Cook Strait. We have many wonderful groups and individuals who support us but need to get the 1000s of residents who will be adversely affected by this extension to have their voices heard by the court as well. The Airport and Council have done a great job in getting misinformation, spin and fantasies about limitless economic growth out into the public and there are a lot of misconceptions we have to battle to rouse people from their complacency. For example:

Everyone of the 1000s of residents living along the heavy truck hauling route – did you know up to 30 trucks an hour, filled with rubble, will rumble past your homes day and night, clogging up traffic at major choke points for up to 4 years?

Everyone who uses Lyall Bay recreationally – surfers, swimmers, surf life savers, dog walkers, fishermen, kai moana collectors – did you know about the 300m (or is it 250m? Different numbers in different reports, same with the final length of the runway) exclusion zone around the construction of both runway and wave focusing device which will make large parts of the bay basically off-limits for up to 4 years?

Note that this image shows exclusion zones that are less than the 250-300m ones mentioned in the reports
Note that this image shows exclusion zones that are less than the 250-300m ones mentioned in the reports

Everyone who cares about our environment – did you know that the environmental impact reports are fatally flawed and couldn’t undertake proper sampling or data collection as the airport deemed it ‘too costly’ and the Cook Strait was ‘too difficult to work in’? For example, out of 6 boreholes meant to determine the seismic stability of the Bay, only 1 was ever completed!

Everyone who cares about climate change – did you know that the added emissions, should the long-haul flights ever arrive, will sky rocket Wellington City’s emissions – already 25% of our total emissions profile – by at least 60million tonnes of CO2e? And that both major access roads to the airport are some of the most threatened by rising sea levels – something that isn’t even mentioned in the 5000+ pages of technical reports?

Everyone who cares about our elected Councillors wasting ratepayer money on corporate handouts and subsidies to billion dollar multi-nationals who are laughing all the way to the bank, whilst community groups like the Guardians of the Bays have to fund-raise and give up their members’ precious time and energy to fight them in court – Please join us to make our voices heard: http://www.actionstation.org.nz/wellington_airport_extension. We will run an information workshop for the public on August 1, 7pm at Haitaitai Bowling Club.

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