29 Apr 2016

Fight or flights: Wellington runway battle heats up

11:34 am on 29 April 2016

Opponents are preparing for a fight over a proposed runway extension as the Wellington Airport formally lodges a resource consent.

Wellington airport drought

Wellington airport has officially applied for resource consent to extend its runway. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The airport has formally applied for a resource consent to extend the runway 354m into Cook Strait, and has asked for the application to be heard in the Environment Court as soon as possible.

Wellington Airport said the city was missing out on long-haul flights from Asia and America.

Over summer, published 27 reports for consultation, detailing the effects of using 1.5 million tonnes of rock and sediment to extend the runway. The reports analysed the impact the extension would have on the waves in Lyall Bay, the loss of a views for nearby houses, the route the trucks would use to bring the rocks in, and, most of all, the economic benefit it would bring the region.

Since then those reports have been closely scrutinised. Air New Zealand and Qantas have discredited the extension; the government is reluctant to put up any cash; the cost-benefit analysis has been rejected by the Institute of Economic Research; and the required length of the Runway End Safety Area is challenged in court.

Steve Sanderson

Steve Sanderson Photo: Supplied

The airport's chief executive, Steve Sanderson, said it listened to the community and has revised some of those plans.

"We had some 600 submissions when we went to consultation over the summer and some 80 percent of those submissions were also, in one form or another, actually favourable or supportive of the runway extension," he said.

Sea Rotmann is the co-chair of The Guardians of the Bays which was set up in opposition to the extension.

Dr Rotmann said she was preparing for a fight.

"We're very optimistic that we can put a halt to it because when you look at the facts as they are they're not actually looking very good for this whole project.

"There are no flights, there are no planes, there are no airlines that have said they want to fly here long haul," she said.

Dr Rotmann said the environmental effects of the extension were still not well known, and could damage the South Coast.

Then there is the matter of financing the $300 million project.

Nicola Young - wants Kate Sheppard lights to stay

Nicola Young Photo: RNZ / Teresa Cowie

So far the Wellington City Council, which owns a third of the airport, has earmarked $90m, and the region's other councils would add $60m to the pot.

But two centre-right mayoral candidates are getting cold feet about that.

Nicola Young said the airport's two-thirds owner, Infratil, should pay accordingly.

"Infratil owns the majority of the shareholdings, so I think it should be paying the majority of the costs. It just doesn't seem right that Infratil is not paying in line with its shareholding," she said.

Another candidate, Jo Coughlan, said what the city council puts in should be reflected in its shareholding.

"If we're going to be putting more money into it, specifically around $90m, then obviously we're going to be looking at what that means in terms of our ownership stake, and I think it would be irresponsible not to do that," Mrs Coughlan said.

Mayoral candidate Jo Coughlan says her top priority is to improve Wellington's infrastructure.

Mayoral candidate Jo Coughlan says her top priority is improving Wellington's infrastructure. Photo: Supplied

However, Mr Sanderson said the commercial value of the extension was roughly $50m over 40 years, and its investment must reflect that.

The 5000 page resource consent application is now with the Wellington City Council and the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

The airport said it hoped members of the public would be able to have their say in June.

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