Wellington Scoop

Capitulating to the airport

by Ian Apperley
In recent weeks Wellington Airport has released more plans to expand, by paving over paradise at the golf course and taking over the old Miramar South School land to build more infrastructure. And that’s just the near-term plans, with the long-term plans guaranteed to provoke outrage and protest, but not laid out in their latest announcement.

My family has some responsibility for the airport, unfortunately. It was my great-grandfather’s construction company that built a lot of it, tearing down nearby hills to create fill for the runway delivered via massive conveyor belts.

Originally, so the story goes, the airport was destined to be far larger. As the end of World War II approached, the Americans apparently needed more airbases in the Pacific to counter the then enemy. A plan was hatched to bulldoze most of Maupuia into Evans Bay, but it never went ahead.

It’s been a war out East for many decades between the airport and the community, with the locals often at odds with the monopolistic entity that the city owns a third of. Despite the Council sitting on the Airport Board, it has never managed to halt the expansion and it never will. Somewhat conflicted, the Councillors and Mayor have always been silent about the impact.

Bridge Street on the west side of the airport has been decimated due to sound regulations. The shopping precinct has taken out a lot of local businesses. Moa Point has lived under a shroud of uncertainty surrounding the runway extension.

And more of the community will be impacted as the rest of Bridge Street is swallowed up, more car parking is put in, SH1 is “realigned” to make the airport wider, a gateway precinct is developed, and the southern extension is still on the cards.

WIAL has tried to spin the effects of this concrete sprawl that will destroy homes and displace residents. In my opinion it has failed dismally.

The latest changes guarantee increased congestion on the city to airport route, where it is not unusual to face commute times of more than 45 minutes.

There will be a devastating impact on the Southern Miramar community – the residents are stuck in the middle of a situation beyond their control, with no support from their local Councillors.

The airport is always going to seek to expand. They can make more money based on the square meterage of the site. But that’s only a small part of why they want to pave over thousands of square meters of land that could arguably be better used. The reality is that air travel is steadily increasing and despite all the warnings about the impact on the climate, we are not interested in having our freedom to travel curtailed and nor are we interested in reducing our air travel.

So throwing rocks at the airport, generally, is hypocritical. Also hypocritical is the Wellington City Council which declared a climate emergency a few months ago and has had nothing of any substance to say on this matter since then. Conflicted, because they own a third of the airport.

Many councillors campaigned hard on the environment but now they have vanished from the scene, retiring perhaps to the no doubt plush surroundings of the airport’s boardroom.

The real question is: where does it stop? The long-term plans seem to see much of Miramar and Rongotai turned into an airport city. Somewhat foolish, given that climate change and sea-level rise (Wellington is slowly sinking) will render the airport useless at some point, as well as most of the flat areas in the Eastern Suburbs that will revert to the original swamp.

And as per usual, the consultation process for this latest move is faux. The plans are laid, the construction will happen, and despite the inevitable legal moves, it will only be a matter of time. The golf course held out for years in constant back and forth legal battles, but in the end, it capitulated.

Just like the Council has over this latest plan.

First published on Inside Wellington.


  1. Sarah Free, 27. November 2019, 9:45

    Hi Ian, we have organised a meeting for elected representatives to talk to the airport, will see how that goes. [via twitter]

  2. Benoit Pette, 27. November 2019, 9:47

    Thanks for letting us know, Sarah. It would be very useful to hear what is the Council’s agenda walking into this meeting, and its outcome. We, the community, through our Councillors, need to own the agenda and set the terms of the negotiation, not the other way around. [via twitter]

  3. Marion Leader, 27. November 2019, 9:58

    I have noted before that two of the new, younger councillors each have a life expectancy of 60 years. This gives them a big stake in the future when it comes to considering factors like climate change. What are they doing about it? Or are they happy to collect their $111,000 a year and leave it to school-children? If these new young Councillors are not prepared to speak out, could the rules be changed so that we could elect school-children to the Council and really get the job done?

  4. Mike Mellor, 27. November 2019, 11:56

    “So throwing rocks at the airport, generally, is hypocritical” – maybe, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that airport expansion is not just unsustainable but actually destructive.

    As Brian Kahn puts it: “Governments have promised to start doing that as part of their commitments to the Paris Agreement. There’s just one problem: They’re talking out of both sides of their mouths. And according to a new report by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the world wouldn’t just edge past the 2 degrees Celsius limit outlined in the Paris Agreement if fossil fuel productions goes as planned. It would blow past it well before 2030.”

    So it’s time that WCC (and others) showed leadership: they have declared a climate emergency and need to act in accordance with that.

  5. K, 27. November 2019, 12:09

    Of all the places I would care about being swallowed up by an airport expansion – a golf course is something I care the least about. If a few rich boomers have to travel a bit further to hit a tiny ball around hundreds of acres of land so we can get a better airport that creates more jobs and potentially lowers travel costs, then I say absolutely do it.

    In terms of climate impact from air travel – this is a temporary situation, just like every other mode of transport there is currently a lot of R&D being spent on zero emission solutions. For aircraft, that currently focuses on electric (for short range/domestic aircraft) and hydrogen (for long range/international) flights. Perhaps we shouldn’t be hamstringing the airport now because of an issue that will disappear within 20 years.

  6. Benny, 27. November 2019, 13:17

    @K: Then for once, let the R&D happen first, and ensure we have a sustainable solution BEFORE any growth plan. We’ve done it the other way around for the past decades, and see where it’s taken us: in an emergency situation. Timing is critical now, and we can’t afford to keep business as usual. Once we have solutions, and they have been rolled out, THEN we expand.

  7. Dave B, 27. November 2019, 13:22

    @ K – maybe, but how much extra fossil-fuel-powered air-travel should we encourage in the meantime, even assuming that your 20-year projection for developing emissions-free aviation is correct? If there really is a climate-emergency now, then continuing to stoke the things that are causing it for the next 20 years would seem to be a trifle dumb. Or are you saying there is no climate-emergency? It’s hard to have it both ways.

  8. K, 27. November 2019, 14:54

    Did some reading today after my initial post regarding electric aircraft. Is possibly more advanced than I thought. Wright Electric is developing a 500km range 188 seat all-electric airliner for delivery to its primary customer (EasyJet Europe) by 2027. 500km is enough for most regional flights and nearly enough for the core domestic routes (covers Wellington – Christchurch, and almost gets from Wellington to Hamilton).

    There are at least 170 different electric aircraft designs in development. Air New Zealand has announced it is exploring a future electric aircraft with ATR (owned by Airbus) for regional routes. I imagine airlines will want to switch to electric aircraft as soon as possible after introduction, given that it will remove a major cost (aircraft fuel), and alleviate the growing “travel guilt” movement.

  9. greenwelly, 27. November 2019, 15:28

    @K, that’s great for buzzing round NZ, but to get here tourists are still going to be burning boatloads of fossil fuels – Eplanes are not going to seriously help Air NZ reduce emissions. Air NZ’s 2019 emissions from domestic flights were ~500 ktonnes. Its international emissions were ~3000 ktonnes, (and international emissions have risen by about 400 ktonnes in the last 3 years). Totally replacing ALL domestic flights with electric planes (which is not going to happen) would likely be cancelled out by four years of international growth.

  10. K, 27. November 2019, 16:07

    @greenwelly. Agree that international flights are the big target, and in that effort the likely initial target will be using hybrid planes with a mix of both traditional jet engines and new electric engines that could significantly lower the carbon footprint. These sorts of products can be variants of existing Boeing & Airbus lines.

    Also just came across the Eviation Alice, which is due for commercially availability in 2-3 years time and would serve our small regional routes well: fully electric 11 seater with 1000km range.

  11. Benny, 27. November 2019, 16:13

    @K: I like your optimism and would LOVE if it was real. But allow me to want to see it BEFORE we grow. Also, here is a September 2019 article worth reading.

  12. PCGM, 27. November 2019, 16:30

    Ian Apperley’s analysis is spot-on – the odds that WCC will do anything to slow down the expansion of the airport, or do anything to actually give effect to that much-celebrated climate emergency declaration, is exactly zero. As I pointed out before the election, the WCC doesn’t have any concrete plans to decrease emissions – not for themselves, and not for the city. All the strategies and annual plans and generalised Twitter blather amount to nothing more than more endless talk, with very little evidence of resultant action.

    If you want to see how far the council hasn’t come in the last decade, the Low Carbon Capital Plan (PDF) from 2010 makes fascinating but depressing reading. It gets the problems exactly right and talks a great game – but next to nothing has been achieved, and our emissions are pretty much at the same point they were a decade ago.

    The key takeaway: climate change in the capital will be addressed and mitigated despite our politicians, not because of them.

  13. Trevor In, 27. November 2019, 19:32

    @K: Miramar golfers are not “rich boomers”. They had Wellington’s champion team for much of the 2000s whose ages were late teens to mid twenties. They are mainly working people. The golf course has been there for well over 100 years. Its loss will be a tragedy for the East.

  14. Ms Green, 27. November 2019, 20:57

    The airport wants to gobble up more land for what? To expand its carparking, hotel and retail revenue? None of this other business is needed for planes to land and take off. Why is it allowed to expand for non-essential business by a Council in a city where land is scarce?

  15. luke, 28. November 2019, 17:19

    A lot of golf clubs are struggling, perhaps eliminating one will be good for the rest of the region’s clubs struggling financially and might give them a few extra members.

  16. Morris Oxford, 28. November 2019, 18:58

    Luke, it would be much better to get rid of lots of golf clubs. Then the others can do better and have lots of members.

  17. Ross Clark, 29. November 2019, 1:07

    The airport wants to gobble up more land for what? … Why is it allowed to expand for non-essential business by a Council in a city where land is scarce?

    It may not be “essential” for planes to land and take off, but it is certainly needed for the passengers. My own view is that if the airport can do more to improve the use of public transport in its surface access – where I live, the bus and tram together handle 40 percent of the airport’s market – then some of the more immediate effects of this investment could be dissipated.

  18. Ms Green, 29. November 2019, 9:19

    Well yes Ross….one day, and for a lot less land. But in the meantime it is the creator of congestion – car congestion not plane congestion with not a thought for supporting light rail or even efficient bus. The airport as a major player should be part of the LGWM discussion and airlines and the airport should help subsidise light rail… now there’s a thought! After all the airport is an integral part of our public transport system..