8 Jun 2017

New Plymouth Airport upgrade to go ahead

9:21 pm on 8 June 2017

New Plymouth Airport is to get a state-of-the-art new terminal but not everyone is happy with the price tag, which is up to three times as much as when the project was first floated.

Artist's impression of the new building.

An artist's impression of the new terminal design (September 2016) Photo: Supplied

After hearing oral submissions on the building at its annual plan hearing yesterday, the New Plymouth District Council voted 10-3 in favour of the proposal to build a terminal twice the size of the existing building.

Former councillor Len Houwers, who quite the last council mid-term, was among those who made a submission against the proposal.

Mr Houwers said the proposed revamp of the terminal was in danger of becoming a vanity project that would end up costing Taranaki ratepayers millions.

He told the hearing that the original $9 million design for a new terminal included in the council masterplan for the airport was fit for purpose.

Last year the council rejected the functional terminal design in favour of an "iconic" upgrade, which was twice the size and incorporated cultural features telling Taranaki's unique story.

It said the refurbished terminal - costing between $21.7m and $28.7m - would provide a gateway to the 420,000 passengers who flew in and out of Taranaki each year and increased airport revenues would pay for its construction at no additional cost to ratepayers.

Len Houwers

Len Houwers Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Mr Houwers told the hearing the project had got out of hand and ultimately the community would pay for it in higher airfares and increased user charges.

"The problem I have is the size of the terminal itself. The argument that it needs to be a 400 sqm terminal rather than 2000 sqm, which is actually fit for purpose, I think that's the real problem.

"The evidence and the facts support the smaller case not the largest case."

Mr Houwers supported the idea of cultural design elements being included in the project but said the council was fixated on the idea of the airport as a destination in itself.

"I think the whole argument - put forward by the officers as well I might add - that the airport itself is going to be a tourist attraction in its own right just shows how far they've actually got caught up in the emotion of the topic rather than what is actually true."

'Shelve the plans right now'

Submitter Tony Collins was not a fan either.

"We want to go to the airport, get on a plane, fly out, come back, get off the plane into our car and go home.

"I don't want to go shopping out there and I don't think a lot of other people do. It's the last place I want to spend time."

James Finlayson's helicopter business is based at the airport. He questioned the council's predictions for revenue and passenger growth.

"Shelve the plans right now for the option that seems to be the favoured one, for a grand edifice, and go back to a practical, safe, functional building.

"Design something that allows for future expansion if, and only if and when, necessary. Don't be seduced by your eloquent reports, your predicted income and your assumptions."

Mr Finlayson said the extra money would be better spent on runway improvements or on people in the community who needed it.

Environmental and cultural considerations

Climate Justice Taranaki spokesperson Lyndon Deventier said he had pressing concerns about old oil well sites on the airport grounds.

"We don't want to think about it in many respects, it could be dreadful. There are explosions that have happened overseas that have caused fatalities so we don't want that to be happening here of course.

"We would like the council to be more mindful of the risks they are taking on board here."

Mr Deventier said the council should consider safety setbacks from the old wells of up to a kilometre to prevent injury should one blow up.

The Puketapu hapū has been involved in designing the cultural aspects of the expanded terminal.

Hapū member Wayne Capper said they would provide a suitable welcome for visitors and people returning home alike.

"I think it would be great for us as a city and a province to take that step like Auckland Airport has and be inclusive and share those stories of pre European and post-European [life here].

"I think that is important. No facts or figures just straight from the heart."

Most submissions in favour of new terminal plan

The council had received more than written 200 submissions on the airport project, with the majority in favour of the proposal.

And the majority of councillors agreed with them, arguing that the upgrade needed to done once and done right.

Councillor Gordon Brown was one of the naysayers. He thought the project was over the top and needed to be scaled back.

Mayor Neil Holdom said a council-controlled organisation with an independent board was being set up to run the airport, and it would be asked to report back on whether the design was fit for purpose.

Construction of the new terminal is set to begin next year.