Credit: https://twitter.com/tristamsparks
Credit: https://twitter.com/tristamsparks

Guardians of the Bays are pleased to report that a change has finally been enacted to reduce the recreational air traffic noise that residents living in Miramar North are exposed to.

When the weather is good, planes from the Wellington Aero Club have been circling the Miramar Peninsula along what is known as the “circuit”. In doing so, they inflict the noise of their engines on thousands of residents. At times, circles exceed 50 occurrences in a day, hijacking the soundscape at the same time that residents want to enjoy being outside.

For years, the Guardians have been trying to find solutions to minimise the nuisance, meeting with the Aero Club, the Airport and WCC on several occasions. The last meeting, in April 2021, was sadly fruitless, but things are about to change.

From mid-December, a new Memorandum of Understanding between Airways and the Wellington Aero Club will be signed. This new agreement states that when recreational aircraft are departing towards the north (or on that circuit around the peninsula), their normal procedure will now be that on their Eastern turn, their right wing tip will need to be to the North of the prison (rather than at the Maupuia water towers (red circle on map below) which was their previous reference point for this purpose). If there are safety reasons where they need to turn earlier, the air control tower can require them to, however this will not be the norm.

The green marker is the new turning point for recreational aircraft

This will take recreational air traffic further away from homes, resulting in a direct reduction in exposure to noise. While this is undeniably an improvement, Guardians of the Bays will continue to advocate for the circuit to be pushed even further north (around the inhabited north of the peninsula), a change that would completely shield residents from noise.

This win, while initiated by the Guardians, is the result of a closed discussion between Wellington Airport, Airways (the organisation in charge or managing air traffic) and the Aero Club. It is a disappointment the community was not included in the last leg of the discussion. However, we acknowledge this is a step in the right direction.

In this festive season, we would like to celebrate this welcome change, and thank all parties involved in making it happen.

Guardians of the Bays has lodged an appeal with the Environment Court against Wellington International Airport Limited’s aggressive and unsustainable expansion plan.

The Airport’s plan Notice of Requirement for the East Side Area removes the buffer area that exists between the airport and the community of Strathmore Park to the east; putting much larger jet aircraft on the edge of one of Wellington’s poorest communities,.

Guardians of the Bays Co-Chair Yvonne Weeber

Under the plan, Wellington Airport says passengers will double to 12 million by 2040 while at the same time claiming airport ‘operational’ emissions will fall by 30% by 2030.

“This is laughable: You can’t ‘airport’ your way out of a climate crisis”, Weeber said.

The environmental, health, and social costs of Wellington Airport’s plans fall well beyond just the neighbouring communities of Strathmore and Kilbirnie, says Weeber.

The community get vastly increased levels of noise, air and light pollution, and traffic congestion; New Zealand as a whole gets significantly increased greenhouse gas emissions as well; and the Airport gets to make more money off the back of those two things.

Weeber says the Airport could hardly have picked a poorer neighbourhood to bear the brunt of its proposed expansion.

This reads like a real-life retelling of The Castle: Strathmore Park is one of the most socio-economically deprived areas in Wellington, and the majority of the worst-affected locals are Kāinga Ora tenants without a voice and without the means to fight. We’ve got to help them and future generations to tell the Airport ‘they’re dreamin’.

Detail/Appeal grounds

Guardians of the Bays will ask the Environment Court to overturn the Notice of Requirement for the East Side Area expansion on a number of grounds, including –

  • The removal of the existing buffer from the District Plan that separates the community of Strathmore Park from the Airport’s operational activities;
  • The devastating effects on surrounding neighbourhoods of increased noise, reduced amenity, increased dust, visual disturbance, light pollution;
  • Vastly increased traffic congestion that the Airport have no concrete plans to manage;
  • The lack of information on how environmental impacts of stormwater, earthworks, sediment and dust are to be managed;
  • The lack of consideration or information on air discharge from airport operations right next to neighbouring Strathmore Park Residents pollution – including largely Kianga Ora owned social housing;
  • No means of residents complaining about excessive noise and environmental issues if this expansion goes ahead;
  • No agreement to maintain the long standing and hard contested public connection of vehicles, cycles and pedestrians between Broadway and Moa Point on the East Side of Wellington Airport; and
  • No commitment to support New Zealand’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions and be carbon neutrality by 2050 by Wellington Airport or airlines using their facilities.

Background

Guardians of the Bays (GotB) is an incorporated society set up to reduce the adverse effects that arise from Wellington International Airport Limited (WIAL).

Wellington International Airport Limited (WIAL) applied for two a Notices of Requirement (NOR) of the Main Site (existing airport) and the East Side Area (ESA) to Wellington City Council (WCC) for to designate both areas for airport purposes on 25 February 2020.

GotB submitted on both the NOR Main Site and the NOR SEA.

The NOR ESA is on half the southern end of Miramar Golf Course and WIAL sought to use this recreational buffer area as tarmac for plane taxiways, movements and parking next to an extended terminal building.
This land has historically provided a buffer between the Airport and the community to the east, and the need for such a buffer has long been considered a necessity by policy makers at the Wellington City Council, as evidenced under the current District Plan:

  • Rule 10.2.2.2 of the WCC District Plan sets out that the Council will “Provide for the ongoing use of the Golf Course and recreation activities within the buffer of land to the east of the Airport area” and recognises that “The existing Golf Course provides a buffer between the Residential Areas and the Airport operations”.
  • Rule 10.2.5.2 advises that the Council will “Ensure a reasonable protection of residential and school uses from Airport activities by providing controls on bulk and location, ensuring sufficient space is available for landscape design and screening, and by retaining a buffer of land of a recreational nature to the east of the Airport.”

The NOR ESA seeks to do away with this land buffer, as if they were never really any need for it in the first place, or as if it were simply a ‘nice to have’. In this regard, the NOR ESA is completely at odds with the intent of the existing WCC District Plan that set a clear expectation that a buffer was a ‘must have’.

GotB was a submitter to both NORs and opposed the East Side Area on a number of areas including climate change, noise, sustainability, environmental, health and welfare of the surrounding community.
WCC’s experts initial finding was that the NOR ESA should be withdrawn unless appropriate noise and climate change conditions were developed and accepted under section 171(2)(c) of the Resource Management Act 1991.

However, the Independent Panel recommendations to WIAL after, submissions, three days of hearing and additional expert conferencing were for the approval of the NOR ESA and the NOR Main site with minor adjustments

WIAL has since approved the NOR ESA and NOR Main Site.

It is WIAL’s decision to approve the NOR ESA that GotB is appealing to the Environment Court.

Kia ora koutou,

Guardians of the Bays is disappointed by the Independent Commissioner’s recommendation to approve Wellington International Airport Limited (WIAL)’s project to expand the East Side Area and over half of Miramar golf course.

We are disappointed by this recommendation as it has failed to take into proper consideration the significant adverse effects on the immediate neighbours, Wellingtonian’s wellbeing overall, and generations of today and tomorrow. We are also disappointed in the adverse effect on ratepayers who will be asked to fund the construction of a future giant white elephant. 

We firmly believe Wellington Airport should not be allowed to expand into the East Side Area  in a climate change crisis as the airport  is already responsible for 20% of Wellington’s green-house gas emissions. The East Side Area expansion will substantially increase Wellington Airports and related activities green-house emissions.

Guardians of the Bays is now considering its options. We will engage with members of the community, the iwi, community groups and Wellington City Council as we prepare for WIAL’s decision on this recommendation.

We are happy to be approached for comment.

Ngā mihi


Below are the panel’s final recommendation reports:

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

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

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

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

On page 12, it states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

READ MORE:
Wellington Airport could build wall at end of runway to extend safety area
Supreme Court deals blow to Wellington Airport runway extension plan
Wellington Airport lines up Chinese construction giant for runway extension
Airports group joins Supreme Court hearing to warn of risks from pilots’ safety challenge
Wellington Airport claims not all planes need to be able to land on longer runway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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

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.”

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.