15 Aug 2016

Mayoral candidates reconsider runway funding

9:20 pm on 15 August 2016

Wellington's mayoral candidates are back-pedalling on whether the city should stump up $90 million for the city's runway extension.

Virgin plane landing in Wellington Airport.

A plane lands at Wellington Airport. A runway extension would allow for larger long-haul planes. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Board of Airline representatives (BARNZ) released a report today by Sydney-based consulting company Ailevon, which had found the airport's passenger forecasts were flawed and none of the proposed extra flights were commercially viable.

But Wellington Airport accused BARNZ of using underhanded tactics to gain headlines and stood by its own figures.

Airport spokesperson Greg Thomas said the demand was proven because Wellington's long-haul market had grown by over 60 percent in the past five years.

"Both of the reports will be scrutinised in the Environment Court, [BARNZ's] forecasts will be scrutinised in the Environment Court, and it will be very much up to them to assess it and make a final decision," Mr Thomas said.

The report opened the way for Wellington's mayoral candidates to make their positions clear.

Outgoing Porirua mayor Nick Leggett said it did not yet change the case for the extension, but the city should take its time to consider the total business case after resource consent is granted - even if that meant a couple of years' delay for the project.

"This is not about shutting the door today on what could be a hugely important connector for the Wellington region," he said.

"It's about carefully proceeding and understanding the fors and the againsts, the costs and the benefits, and where this fits in the overall strategy for Wellington and the region."

Self-proclaimed non-establishment candidate Keith Johnson said, if it was viable, the airport would have funded the extension itself.

"There's absolutely no justification whatsoever for the justification for the subsidisation of private profit, the whole idea is a nonsense," he said. "In fact, [airport chair] Tim Brown has admitted [the airport] would not do it unless prompted by the Wellington City Council.

"It's just the chickens coming home to roost," he said.

Wellington Airport would not disclose its likely contribution, saying it was still waiting for the resource consent to come through.

But mayoral candidate and current councillor Nicola Young said Infratil - the airport's two-thirds owner - needed to pay in line with its ownership.

It was "another nail in the coffin", Ms Young said.

Fellow candidate and councillor Jo Coughlan - who is pro-infrastructure, particularly for roads - said it was too soon to make a decision.

"We haven't actually seen the final business case for the runway extension, so no doubt there will be a number of reports that will be pro- and anti- through this process," she said.

"We just have to wait until after we've seen the final business case which will be no-doubt available after the resource consent process and then we'll be making a decision."

Helene Ritchie said the money could be better spent elsewhere and, if elected, she would have a referendum held on the topic.

Incumbent deputy mayor Justin Lester said BARNZ had been consistent in its opposition - and it had commissioned a report to back that up.

"If you pay a consultant to do a job, they will get the information potentially on the two different sides of a coin," he said. "These numbers are real; it's a question of how you interpret them.

"I hope we will work with the government as a potential funder of the project and we may then decide, with government, to do some joint reports," he said.

Andy Foster said he would set up an investment vehicle that would own the extension rather than the airport.

That would guarantee only long-haul flights would pay to use the new tarmac, and there would be no transfer of public money to a private company.

The Greater Wellington Regional Council said it had received about 780 submissions, which would be considered by the Environment Court through the resource consent process.

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