Opposition to the proposed runway extension is growing if attendance at the recent Guardians of the Bays information evening is anything to go by. A diverse range of groups, from business, community, recreational and environmental organisations are asking questions to peel away the public relations spin around the ill-conceived, expensive airport extension proposal.

Groups as diverse as Forest & Bird; various Residents’ Associations; Wellington businesses; Save the Basin; the Surfbreak Protection Society; Hue te Taka Society; OraTaiao: The NZ Climate & Health Council; the Wellington Underwater Club; 350.org and the Green Party, to name a few, were represented at last week’s meeting. It quickly became clear that everyone present was deeply concerned at the spin being put out by the airport company, and the potential cost it will have to ratepayers and taxpayers, and of course to the beautiful Wellington south coast.

The meeting was MCed by Bishop Richard Randerson, who has national standing for his work in faith-based and place-based communities. He made it clear that an airport extension does not make Wellington more progressive, particularly when the ratepayers and taxpayers are being asked to subsidise one of New Zealand’s wealthiest companies.

Dr Sea Rotmann, co-Chair of the Guardians of The Bays, outlined the group’s main areas of opposition in her presentation [gview file=”https://guardiansofthebays341400583.files.wordpress.com/2021/06/b54e9-gotb-info-evening-presentation.pdf”%5D where she blew away a few airport myths like:

  • There will be little impact on marine ecology – but their ‘experts’ didn’t even know that Moa Point was a breeding habitat for the critically-endangered reef heron, nor do they know what the infill material will contain.
  • There will be little impact on recreational activities – but they haven’t really done a great job at collecting the data to support this statement. Council officers have not yet referred the application to the Environment Court because there were so many inconsistencies and information gaps resulting in 46 questions and a further resource consent needed.
  • The extension will result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions – yeah right, especially seeing it is meant to increase long-haul passenger numbers by 16.1 million versus business as usual!
  • The extension will withstand rising sea levels and 8m waves – yet all you need to do is visit Lyall Bay in winter and you’ll see 10m+ waves on a regular basis, not to mention the issues around sea level rise and storm surges affecting all access roads to the airport.
  • Trust the airport and their ‘experts’, they know what they’re doing – this from an organisation that wasn’t even able to collect a full set of data because of the bad weather in Cook Strait, who have little idea what the infill material will be (but it may be contaminated dredge spoil from CentrePort), who wanted to hide construction noise under BAU aircraft activities, who didn’t know they needed a resource consent for stormwater discharge and who have commissioned 4 economic reports claiming bigger and bigger benefits, despite their methodology continually being savaged by an army of independent economists…

Tim Jones, who brings to the group valuable experience from the campaign against a proposed Basin Reserve flyover, ran over a few traffic facts – did you know that if the project goes ahead, 1.5 million m3 of fill will be transported from Horokiwi and Kiwi Point quarries by truck through central Wellington, along SH1 through both tunnels to the airport, often every 2 minutes and all during the night? And that the revised route through Vivian Street, Karo Drive, Wellington Road, Lyall Parade, Onepu Road, Rongotai Road, Evans Bay Parade may actually pose serious safety hazards?

Rob le Petit from the Surfbreak Protection Society reiterated the support of the surfing fraternity who love their surf and whose members include leading experts in planning, oceanography and the environment. Did you know that Lyall Bay is one of the birthplaces of NZ surfing, yet the airport are proving particularly sneaky by trying to make deals with the surfers promising them an untested ‘wave focusing device’ while on the other hand the airport is aggressively attacking the legal obligations that protect the Lyall Bay surf?

Keith Johnson is standing for Mayor because he is sickened by the lack of commitment by the current crop of would-be Mayoral contenders to fairness, accountability, economics and good governance. He is especially appalled by Wellington City Council’s championing of the runway extension. Dr Johnson is a transport economist and told the meeting that the cost-benefit-analysis ratio the airport has conjured up of 1.7 (now 2.3!) is nonsense and should more realistically be less than 1.

What’s more, not only do we not know how much it’s really going to cost, the benefits the airport wizards have created keep going up, up, up – like the length of the extension (or Pinocchio’s nose!) which has grown from 300m to 363m – yet the costs, we’re told, remain the same! We should be afraid, very afraid, about putting our trust into a project of this magnitude which carries so many uncertainties and risks.

Infratil lier plane

Wellington City Councillor and former airport planner David Lee asked who is going to fund this Great Big White Elephant? The Government’s said NO, the other Councils in the region have said MAYBE to the tune of $60m, with Wellington City Council earmarking $90m (in addition to the $3m they already paid up front). As David said – this level of corporate welfare STINKS. The big winner is the airport who is only contributing about $50m! And this still leaves a $100-150 million shortfall which Mayoral candidate Justin Lester is on record as saying that if the government doesn’t step in ratepayers, or investors – whoever they might be – will have to pay.

These are some of the many, many reasons why this airport runway extension is simply madness, and why so many diverse groups will fight it to the end. But the biggest killer of the project, seeing this is the whole reason why the Council is pushing this so much, was delivered by John Beckett, the Executive Director of the Board of Airline Representatives (BARNZ). BARNZ represents all 24 airlines that are flying into New Zealand, including the five that fly into Wellington.

John made it very clear that no long-haul airlines flying to New Zealand support this project, and the reason is simple economics: the aviation sector is extremely competitive with high costs and thin margins. Long-haul aircraft need high load factors in order to operate a route profitably. It is unlikely that any airline in Asia or North America would fly non-stop long haul into Wellington because the market is too small. Their first choice would be Auckland, and then Christchurch, on the grounds of population and proximity to tourism highlights. Wellington comes a distant third. As John pointed out, the route projections and cost-benefit analysis provided by the airport’s economists are overly optimistic, and BARNZ’s economic experts, NZIER, will be on hand to dismantle the airport’s arguments in court. Without additional flights attracted by the extension, it is also likely that airport charges will rise on all other routes into Wellington in order to cover the costs and profits.

To summarise why we need to keep asking questions about the proposed runway extension:

  • There is no proven demand for it and no long-haul airlines will come here and stay the course.
  • The real cost is not known and likely to be much more than the current forecast of $300 million.
  • The benefits are unreal and over-inflated – simply conjured up by the Airport wizards…
  • Only Wellington City Council has made a commitment to fund some of the extension, leaving a huge funding shortfall.
  • Wellington City ratepayers will pay for this folly disproportionately – in terms of inter-generational debt; cost overruns; interest charges; environmental, health and recreational impacts; ensuing traffic chaos; and cost increases for every passenger and anyone using the airport, for example when parking a car.
  • Wellington Airport is in a highly risky location, both in terms of safety and impacts from climate change such as rising sea levels and other environmental catastrophes, which are already endangering access.
  • It will destroy so much of what people most love about Wellington: the Lyall Bay surf, the rugged south coast, the little blue penguin and reef heron nesting habitats, fishing, diving and the collection of kai moana, not to mention the joy it brings to everyone when we get orca visitors
  • Climate change (which threatens our economy, health & well-being) and the global agreement to move towards zero net climate-damaging emissions have been completely ignored in the airport’s cost-benefit ‘analysis’.
  • The cost-benefit analysis, when done properly, shows an actual return of investment of less than 1. That means that this is a financial loser where we are set to gain less than a dollar for every dollar spent!
  • It represents economic incompetence on the part of our politicians whose lazy thinking sees the runway extension as the answer to all our economic woes – when they are the last people we should rely on to ‘pick winners’. Justin Lester even used the Chair of Infratil, the majority shareholder of the airport and a multi-national company, in his election video. And when he got asked about this on his facebook site, he swiftly deleted the questions!
  • It provides a corporate handout to a large, very wealthy company with a billion dollars to spend which it is choosing not to invest in Wellington’s runway extension. Infratil is laughing all the way to the bank because it thinks it is getting away with taking your rates for their airport, which will end up being poured down Cook Strait.
  • This is nothing but the badly thought-out vanity project of some politicians who want to ‘leave their legacy’ by building a Great Big White Elephant on our South Coast.

We have developed a handy submission guide that can be used by every person and group wanting to join us in the Environment Court to fight this environmentally damaging case and colossal waste of ratepayers money.

If you want to join us, please subscribe to the Guardians of the Bays and help us ensure that Wellington does progress – but in the smartest, most sustainable and positive ways, not with out-dated ‘think big’ projects and corporate welfare.

 

We have submitted the following to the WCC’s Annual Plan – as they were asking for ‘good ideas’ from the community of how to spend our money better. It may be largely lip-service, seeing the Council has gotten a lot of flak recently over their public ‘consultation’ (or lack thereof) processes, but we felt it was important to continue to engage with the Council and to use this democratic process.

Dr Sea Rotmann, our Co-Chair spoke to the submission and Clive Anstey had also sent it round to every Councillor with a cover letter beforehand. Councillor Andy Foster, to his credit, replied with an immediate and thoughtful response, outlining the many caveats that would still need to be met before the Council would decide to spend the $90m that were already earmarked for this proposal in the Long Term Plan. He also spoke to Dr Rotmann and Mr Anstey during the break, which may have been a bit of a mistake: He told them that his mind was still completely open (good!) but that he wasn’t sure that emotions (on both sides) weren’t getting in the way of the facts (our main emotion is frustration that the airport’s ‘facts’ are largely based on obfuscation, spin and misinformation, but OK). As example, he gave the issue that was raised very eloquently by a previous speaker who asked the Council to ensure that they would get the dividends they deserve for their shareholding, not the peanuts they actually got from the airport once its creative accountants were done with it. Councillor Foster also said that the Council would be satisfied with little more but a ‘handshake’ commitment from airlines instead of an actual signed contract, which would be needed in order to get a proper business case through the Treasury guidelines. We clearly told him that the public (and the Central Government who is meant to co-fund this White Elephant) certainly would not be happy with such a ‘nudge, wink’ deal seeing the amount of public money that was at stake – and the many airports in NZ and overseas that have failed to materialise the promised planes after extending their runways.

When Dr Rotmann went to speak, she had the 2015 WIAL Annual Report figures open on her phone. In response to Andy Foster’s claim that the Council was getting its fair share of dividends from the airport, here are the actual numbers: WIAL made $108m in profit; has $842m in assets; $438m in equity and the Council got a measly $12m in dividends. We reminded the Councillors that they had paid 50% of ratepayer money towards the airport’s resource consent reports and the Region said it would put up half of the cost of the runway extension ($150m – $90m by WCC and $60m by the other Councils, none of whom have put any money for it aside in their long-term plans, however). That is despite the (widely discredited) cost-benefit analysis by Sapere claiming that only 1/3 of the benefits would actually stay in the Region.

Dr Rotmann also raised some very good questions about what the Council’s actual job was: Was it to use public money for the common good, e.g. ensuring that the Commons and infrastructure issues such as sewerage, traffic congestion, earthquake strengthening and mitigating climate change impacts such as rising sea levels were taken care of? Or: to throw public money at a private company with billion dollar assets  – without a business case, without proper consultation and without transparent oversight – because politicians regard it as a ‘sexier’, vanity project that will make them look like they’re doing something for ‘economic growth’ during an election year?

She then asked the very pertinent question that all Councillors who had read the 27 airport reports should raise their hands. Unsurprisingly, not one hand went up. Dr Rotmann had read the reports and reminded the Council that, as a scientist holding a PhD on environmental impacts on the marine environment, she was rather uniquely qualified to comment on some of them. She reiterated some of the many failings and holes that the reports clearly showed: insufficient data collection; the inability (due to ‘adverse Cook Strait conditions’) to complete even one of the seismic boreholes that needed to be undertaken to establish that the geomorphology in Lyall Bay was actually capable of taking the 3 million tonnes of rubble safely; comments on the (apparently minor) impact on the marine habitat without knowing the actual quality and composition of the infill that was to be dumped into the bay; the design not having been locked down; different runway lengths being given etc. The faces of the Councillors did suggest that some concern was raised when she said that these reports would not stand up in Court, as they were.

Dr Rotmann implored the Council to insist that independent (i.e. by including community groups such as the Guardians when choosing the experts) peer-reviews and more data collection had to be undertaken before heading to a resource consent hearing. She also reminded the Councillors that their own cost-benefit analysis showed that if we waited ten years, we would get almost the same amount of benefits but without taking many of the risks. For example, we’d then know how well the (Council-subsidised) Singapore-Canberra route was actually going; we’d know of any technological advances that could mean we may be able to fly long-haul without an extension; we’d know further impacts from global climate change decisions such as including aviation emissions in carbon trading schemes etc. Even if we put just our $150m into the bank, by 2060 (when the cost-benefit analysis said we’d be $2b better off, NZ-wide, after spending at least $300m) we’d get over $2b in interest and the whole amount would actually go to the Region! So, for half the cost and none of the risks, we could get the same benefits! Maybe Justin Lester should start talking to Kiwibank about long-term deposit rates instead of handing out secret sweeteners to airlines?

The main point that we are making is this: the Council does not have the mandate to throw public money at a private company without very clearly being able to show that the benefits stack up (this includes a full business case and contractually committed airlines, as well as all costing and funding issues being ironed out); that the benefits far outweigh the many social and environmental impacts of a project such as this; that public consultation and due diligence has been undertaken at all the steps, including independent peer reviews; and that the facts and data are collected following the scientific method and not wishful thinking, grossly overstated assumptions and a fantasy that if ‘we build it, they will come’. Politicians like sexy projects, they like big projects that show that they are ‘getting things done’. Dealing with our massive sewerage, traffic and natural disaster preparedness issues may not be anywhere near as sexy as the ‘Lester/Wade-Brown runway extension’, but are what the actual mandate of the City Council and its elected officials is. Incidentally, all these isseus (sewerage, traffic and natural disaster preparedness) are NEGATIVELY impacted upon by the proposed extension!

So please, dear Councillors: Stop the corporate handouts (including throwing almost $10m of ratepayer money from a non-transparent slush fund at the world’s third largest airline with a Singapore head quarter) and stop calling opponents asking for transparent processes and proper facts and figures as being “Anti-Wellington” in the media. This is unbecoming of a Councillor’s job – it is hard enough to fight the spin and willful obfuscation of facts when it is coming from a billion dollar multinational. But it is an outrage when community groups looking out for the ratepayers’ interests get treated so unfairly by their elected officials. You can do better, City Council(lors)!

The esteemed Wellington City Councillors during the Annual Plan hearings

Our written submission to WCC in full:

The Wellington region faces significant infrastructure and environmental pressures which require huge investment and the proposed $150 million of regional money would be far better directed towards any of these. Such as:

  • Replacing stormwater and sewerage infrastructure and carrying out further earthquake strengthening in our CBD.
  • Addressing traffic bottlenecks – which would be exacerbated by the extra ‘truck a minute’ which would be using SH1 for three years if the runway extension proceeds.
  • Preparing for the forecast sea level rises on large parts of our coast. An issue supported by significant scientific data – and which is predicted to affect both main access roads to the airport.

These, and other issues, are already having significant negative impacts across the region – and will only worsen if not addressed.

By contrast, there are many factors regarding the extension plan which are still very much unknown quantities. These include:

  • Adopting a “build it and they will come” approach to a proposal when no major airline has suggested they will fly long-haul to Wellington.
  • It is not yet known how well the Singapore-Canberra flights will perform without subsidies such as the waiving of landing fees, marketing support and the direct subsidy by ‘Destination Wellington’. The precautionary principle would be to wait for firm results from this before pressing ahead with an extension proposal.
  • It is highly likely that aviation and shipping emissions will finally be taken into carbon accounting. This will have a huge impact on the aviation industry, especially on such a far-flung minor destination as Wellington.
  • The MBIE surf impact research is yet to be undertaken at Lyall Bay. The results of this need to be available before ‘solutions’ are offered to surfers. If not, the outcome could be a potentially unsatisfactory solution that may destroy the recreational value of this bay forever.
  • To date, the airport has only carried out a single seismic borehole to determine the geomorphology of the bay. We understand further boring was prevented by bad weather. Further boreholes should be undertaken before more ratepayer money is committed to a project that may be deemed too unsafe to proceed with.
  • The actual infill sediment composition needs to be tested before any assessment can be made on possible impacts on the marine fauna.
  • To date, all serious independent economists that have reviewed Sapere’s report have concluded the benefits are likely to be negative. It is essential to have realistic numbers for the market catchment and thus passenger forecast of the Wellington region before progressing with an extension plan.

Furthermore, the airport itself requires attention in other areas, particularly the Southern end of the runway. Much could be done to make the runway tunnel and breakwater safer. The flimsy ‘build it and they will come’ approach that is currently being taken to the proposed extension project should also be a cause for great concern. Even the New Zealand Airline Pilots’ Association – and let’s face it, no organisation is better placed to comment on the proposed extension’s safety – has stated that it would not be safe for long-haul flights without the entire bay being filled in. This would cost around half a billion dollars and surely be seen as uneconomical for one extra flight a day.

Singapore Airlines seems to be coming anyway – although, as mentioned previously, it’s a case of ‘wait and see’ regarding operating without the airport and Council subsidy. It can also rely on extra numbers from Canberra and has obviously not regarded either Capital as being a valid business case to fly to directly. So why is an extension deemed necessary?

We call on you to listen to public concerns, listen to the Pilots Association, read all the reports which are available – not just those prepared by the airport – with a critical eye and get them peer-reviewed. Stop repeating airport ‘spin’ as fact. It is essential to take into account that the airport’s mandate is to make money by getting the public to pay for this extension to their asset base. Your mandate is to protect public interest from private machinations. Public money should not be spent on corporate welfare, particularly one built on flimsy foundations which currently do not stand up to scrutiny.

How else will Wellington benefit from your idea:

Using the money currently earmarked for the extension on issues such as stormwater, traffic and natural disaster resilience, would result in a safer, more liveable and smarter city. Wellington could then be promoted as a smart, green liveable city, encouraging new residents and greater visitor numbers.

The alternative is potentially a huge white elephant on the South Coast and a vast waste of public money, the damaging effects of which would reverberate for generations to come.

Safety at Wellington airport is in dispute with the director of Civil Aviation saying it is safe and the pilots’ union saying the risk of an overrun or undershoot is significant.

The airport company wants to extend the length of the runway and Civil Aviation director Graeme Harris has accepted, for now at least, that a longer runway would not mean longer safety zones.

The issue has erupted in the midst of a pilots’ claim that Harris has mistaken the way he should interpret the law about the length of the safety zones.

Harris says Wellington airport is safe with 90m safety zones and, based on current information, 90m would be acceptable on a longer runway also.

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association, representing 1600 pilots and 400 air traffic controllers, said the law required 240m zones at each end of a runway like Wellington, if practicable. The airport company said that could cost more than $280 million.

Much of a hearing at the High Court in Wellington centred on the meaning of “practicable” and the factors relevant to deciding what was practicable.

The pilots’ lawyer, Hugh Rennie, QC, said it was the pilots and air traffic controllers who had the responsibility of operating safely at the flight level.

The union took the court action because the approval, cross checks and responsibility system Harris relied on was not working.

The pilots and air traffic controllers had “deep concern” they had not been involved and consulted, and that valid decisions were not made.

Justice Karen Clark reserved her decision. She said it was unlikely to be delivered this year.

The airport company has yet to apply for resource consent for a 350m extension at the southern end of the runway jutting into Lyall Bay.

Rennie said Harris preferred to allocate the extra length to runway rather than the end safety zones, but he had no power to do that.

The union, Harris, and the airport company disagree about the level of consultation with the union.

Harris also says he has not made a decision about the safety zones. He says he has expressed a “view”, a term the airport company lawyer Victoria Heine called “a little cute”. Rennie said Harris needed to be saved from himself.

Harris’ lawyer, Francis Cooke, QC, said the airport was safe and met international standards with the 90m safety areas.

Wellington had been assessed against international standards and it was seen as very low risk in terms of safety, Cooke said.

The minimal improvement from extending the safety zones had to be balanced against the high cost of engineering and reclamation.

Based on international data the prospect was “extremely low” of overruns or undershoots at Wellington airport for the larger planes the airport was hoping to attract with a longer runway, Cooke said.

But Rennie said it was not possible to take general data that incorporated many factual differences and use it to predict the probability of a rare event at a single location.

Expert local pilots said the probability at Wellington was significant,  Rennie said.

Heine said it was calculated that increasing the safety zones from 90m to 140m or 240m would give marginal improvement and did not outweigh the cost. The recommendation was that it was safe now and it would be in future.

The cost of Wellington Airport’s $300 million runway extension will double if the larger safety zones that pilots want are included in the design, a judge has been told.

At the High Court in Wellington on Monday, the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association – the union that represents pilots – argued the proposed extension should include a 240 metre runway end safety area (RESA) at both ends.

Wellington Airport’s existing 90 metre safety zones have been approved by the Civil Aviation Authority.

A lawyer for the authority told the court yesterday that reclaiming enough land to make them 240m would add another $300m on to the cost of the proposed extension.

But pilots’ association lawyer Hugh RennieQC said that should be done “if practicable” to ensure Wellington Airport complied with the law.

An alternative would be to have a shorter safety buffer with an “arresting surface” at each end where concrete slabs collapse under the weight of aircraft and slow them quicker than a smooth surface.

Wellington Airport is expected to apply for resource consent in December to extend its runway south by 300 metres at a cost of about $300m. Up to $150m of that is expected to be shouldered by Wellington city and regional ratepayers.

Pilots support extending the runway provided the safety rules are followed. But their union has asked the High Court to review the Director of Civil Aviation’s opinion that Wellington’s 90-metre safety areas are acceptable.

In court yesterday, Rennie told Justice Karen Clark that cost should not be the concern of Civil Aviation director Graeme Harris who has to approve the plan.

Harris has said that, on the information provided so far, he is prepared to allow a 90-metre safety area for Wellington Airport, his lawyer Francis Cooke QC said.

He agrees the definition of “practicable” could be clarified, but otherwise stands by his view.

Cooke told the court that reclaiming enough land to put a 240m safety area at both ends would add another $300m to the cost of extending the runway.

Cost and engineering considerations were part of the discussion about what was “practicable” for Wellington Airport, given the city’s challenging terrain and the roads at either end of the existing runway.

If the pilots’ view that a 240m safety area was needed in Wellington, then the airport had been in default since October 2011, he said.

Cooke also pointed out that plans for the runway extension were still at a “comparatively preliminary” stage and various possible lengths were included in the airport company’s proposals.

Wellington Airport has previously said it wanted to extend the runway so long-haul direct flights to Asia would be viable.

Cooke said the existing 90m runway safety area at the northern end was being used by planes for taxiing, and installing collapsing concrete would mean this could no longer happen.

The hearing will continue on Tuesday with Wellington International Airport Limited expected to make submissions to Justice Clark.

It is expected to say the Civil Aviation Authority has made his decision about the safety area, and it should not be changed.

A plane is 29 times more likely to overshoot the runway at Wellington Airport than at Auckland, the High Court in Wellington has been told.

Virgin plane landing in Wellington Airport.A plane lands at Wellington Airport earlier in 2015.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The New Zealand Airline Pilots’ Association has gone to court asking for long safety margins at the end of the runway if the Wellington Airport company goes ahead with plans to extend it 300m into Cook Strait to the south so it can accommodate long haul passenger planes from Asia. The proposal still needs to be approved.

The scheme will cost $300 million and there are fears adding a 240m safety margin would be uneconomic.

But pilots’ counsel Hugh Rennie, QC, rejected those arguments.

“The moment you start saying safety will be whatever you can justify on a cost benefit analysis, there are many, many examples,” Mr Rennie said.

“You might not put signs on bridges because no one ever goes off the edge of them, you might go for cheaper buildings. The objective across the whole thing is the safety objective.”

Wellington Airport after a radar fault grounded planes on 23 June 2015.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

No aircraft had overrun Wellington runway since the 1960s but Mr Rennie said if it happened again, the results could be tragic.

Landing a plane in Wellington was hard enough already, given the challenges posed by the weather and the terrain, and the chance of an overshoot was 29 times greater than in Auckland.

“Wellington Airport is widely considered by pilots to be a very challenging airport for a number of reasons including strong gusty and unpredictable wind conditions, surrounding high terrain, its relatively short single runway, and the particular hazards at either end of the runway, the drop into Cobham Drive to the north, and the steep drop into Lyall Bay to the south.”

Mr Rennie said the runway extension would not be long enough, and the pilots were asking the High Court for an order for a special safety area to be put on the end. This should be 240m long, and the pilots wanted the court to rule that this was required by law.

An alternative could be an equivalent solution such as crushable concrete.

Part 139 of the Civil Aviation Rules said a safety strip must extend to a distance of at least 90m and, if practicable, to a distance of at least 240m from the end of the runway strip.

Mr Rennie said the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was letting the airport go ahead with the runway extension, without extending the safety area.

However, safety had to be maintained; cardboard crash barriers were not used on motorways because proper ones were too expensive, he said.

There needed to be clarity about what the law said on safety zones, and the finding of the court would become a precedent which applied to other New Zealand airport.

News that Wellington Airport (WIAL) will shortly release a business case on the proposed airport runway extension is to be welcomed as a step to greater transparency. But how much transparency will it actually deliver? The tired mantra of ‘300 metres for $300 million’ has been around for a long time now, while plans have shifted and costs have doubtless risen, says Richard Randerson, co-chair of Guardians of the Bays.

And the environmental viability of airport operations is seriously undermined by news this week from Victoria University researcher Dr Nick Golledge that melting ice from Antarctica is likely to add another 40cm to sea level rise predictions, on top of the roughly one metre previously expected to inundate Wellington’s coastal suburbs by 2100. Already, storm surges are washing away roading around the south coast, with both Cobham Drive and Moa Point access roads underwater in recent years.

Evans Bay ca 1940s; modified landing gear for an absent runway
Evans Bay ca 1940s; modified landing gear for an absent runway

Economically, Wellingtonians will be looking for more robust costings and benefits than have so far been available. Speculation about regional profits of $640 million by 2060 lack credibility. Forecasting 45 years ahead is no more than fantasy, and the amount cited scarcely breath-taking.

When assessing costs, a gold standard is set by Treasury’s Better Business Case template. The BBC looks for answers to key questions in terms of strategy, value for money, commercial viability, affordability and project management. Any business case requires objective peer review following the above criteria. We call on the City Council to ensure such a review is made and publicised so that ratepayers may judge on facts rather than pipe-dreams.

The question of who will pay begs a better answer than anything provided to date. WIAL’s own confidence in the viability of the project is undermined by its statement that it would not be profitable for it to contribute more than $50 million of the estimated $300 million cost, a cost that is sure to rise. Wellington ratepayers, both residential and commercial, should be watching their hip-pockets closely to avoid being fleeced for a project that to date has no credible rationale and could be a very expensive white elephant.

The runway extension project has run for too long on bright images and glossy PR. Now is the time for rational analysis and objective decision-making by Council and citizens based on reliable information from disinterested parties.