Defence Minister overrules environment court over Whenuapai Air Base

4:18 pm on 15 October 2019

Defence Minister Ron Mark has used his powers to overrule an Environment Court judgment that may have jeopardised the military's use of the Whenuapai Air Base in Auckland.

Defence Minister Ron Mark

Defence Minister Ron Mark has signed off an exemption under the Resource Management Act. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Mr Mark has signed off an exemption under the Resource Management Act on national security grounds, so engine testing at the base doesn't have to comply with noise restrictions.

It comes after Neil Construction went to the Environment Court to clarify whether noise from aircraft engine testing falls under other noise restriction regulations.

The court said it did, prompting concerns about the impact it would have on air force operations.

"Make no mistake this is a last resort," Mr Mark said.

"This power should only be used when absolutely necessary."

Whenuapai Air Base - RNZAF Base Auckland

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Engine testing and pre-flight tests were an integral part of the maintenance and operation of aircraft at Whenuapai, Mr Mark said.

"The aircraft concerned are based at Whenuapai and maintained there. If they are defective you cannot fly them to another base to perform repairs and test them. This situation is dangerous and I will not put aircrew or public safety at risk," he said.

"Over the past few weeks the Defence Force have looked at other solutions including moving the area of engine testing to other practical locations, but have found they would breach noise restrictions no matter where on Base they move to.

"If this wasn't signed we would not be able to use Whenuapai to conduct aircraft operations. The only other option I have is to close the base and I cannot magic up a new base overnight."

The private, mostly Malaysian-owned, company Neil Construction Limited was planning to build up to 300 houses on land bordering the air base, which it bought for $31 million.

The court action angered Whenuapai locals, who said everyone in the area knew the air base made noise and it's never been a problem.

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