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,” 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.”
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
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 – beforewe 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.
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:
the DG will need to undertake a rule change, which could take years;
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
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.
[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.”
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…
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).”
Wellington Ratepayers Will Pay for Wellington International Airport’s Folly
19 November 2017 – Wellington International Airport is continuing its cynical campaign to shoehorn Wellington ratepayers into paying for a runway extension, despite having no airline, no business case and no eye to safety concerns raised by pilots, according to concerned ratepayers, community leaders and recreational groups.
Guardians of the Bays, which represents more than 600 recreational, community and ratepayer members, says Wellington Airport’s announcement that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a Chinese company to construct the new extension shows it has little respect for the community or the ratepayers.
Guardians of the Bays’ Co-Chair Richard Randerson says WIAL is trying to reinvigorate its extension plans on the back of the Government’s $1 billion regional development fund.
“The questions that residents and ratepayers had prior to the General Election have still not been addressed. 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 Environment Court process is not completed, there are still questions about the safety of the airport currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court and there is still no detailed business case.”
Co-Chair Dr. Sea Rotmann says the burden to ratepayers and taxpayers of the proposed extension continues to be unacceptable – particularly as the suggested benefits to Wellington City are anything but guaranteed.
“No airline has committed to flying into an extended airport and the one airline currently flying (via Canberra) is getting very low loadings, according to an independent monitor of routes around the world. Singapore Airlines reduced the number of flights in response to low demand.
“The Airport has specified the limit for its own investment in the extension at $100m now. Anything above this must come from Wellington ratepayers and New Zealand taxpayers. There is still no business case that has gone through the Treasury’s Better Business Case process to prove if it is even eligible for public funding,” she says.
In a meeting with Guardians representatives earlier this year, Mayor Justin Lester said the extension was not likely to happen anytime soon and that Wellington City Council would not commit to providing more than $90m.
“Mayor Justin Lester said that Wellington ratepayers will not be contributing any more money to the Airport’s application process. The Mayor has finally declared enough is enough – Wellington City will not hemorrhage money to support a poorly planned and poorly researched project when many, more critical initiatives need prioritising. So why are he, and WCC CEO Kevin Lavery signing an MoU with a Chinese construction company and airline as if this proposal is a done deal?
“The Council already gave the Airport $3m of ratepayers’ precious money to fund the creation of its reports, which are consistently being shown to be little more than ‘spin’ to support the Airport’s slant on the proposal.
“Infratil, majority owners of Wellington Airport, are offering to put in less than 20 percent. The rest will have to come from ratepayers and taxpayers. That means further increases in rates.
“How can Wellington sell its self as a world-class tourist destination with a strong environmental record when we need to invest so heavily in things that make it just that, such as our infrastructure, earthquake resilience and our performing arts’ venues?”, Dr Rotmann says.
“Other priorities for Council expenditure include affordable housing, reducing traffic congestion – like on the access road to the airport – and improved social services,” says Richard Randerson.
“Ratepayers have consistently rated such items as of greater priority than a runway extension. It is very disappointing that the Mayor and Chief Council Executive should be signing an MOU with a Chinese construction corporation before essential criteria have been met. It makes a mockery of democracy and slants the playing field in favour of an extension before the matter has even been considered by the Environment Court,” he says.
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.