by Dr Sea Rotmann
After a recent DomPost article that asserted Wellington Airport is ‘gifting’ Moa Point residents with $10,000 out of the goodness of their heart, some ugly attacks were made. I’d like to set the record straight about what it means to be a Moa Pointer and live in the smallest suburb in Wellington.
We are neither nimbys nor whingers, and yes, we knew the airport and sewerage plant were there when we bought our houses (kinda hard to miss!). But we are a special lot, because we live in this special place and call it our home, our tūrangawaewae, and we are its guardians and fiercely protective of it.
Moa Point is a heritage suburb, it consists of a very special reservation – the Hua te Taka peninsula – and a street of 21 residences. We’ve been around for a very long time, almost as long as Wellington exists. Around the corner, in Tarakena Bay, are three of the oldest pa sites in Wellington. Until the early 90s, raw sewage was pumped out straight into this beautiful bay – giving it the ugly moniker ‘Poo Point’.
We are a hardy lot, we have to be, living in this environment. We have the sewerage plant with its special ‘aroma’ wafting around during certain winds and we have the airport, with its noise and its bully tactics, like removing our easy access route to Miramar and threatening to destroy our bay and homes for what seems to be no more than short-sighted greed. And we bear the brunt of Wellington’s infamous winds, both Northerlies and Southerlies, staring straight down the barrel when a Southerly blast or surge comes at us from Antarctica.
But we also boast the best sunset spot in town, with a straight view to the snowy Kaikouras over the turquoise Cook Strait. We harbour a tiny gravel beach, with wonderful snorkelling, fishing and kayaking spots, which is never over-run in summer. We showcase a huge abundance of wildflowers, including 69 indigenous and 33 naturalised plant species. We have one of the few Little Blue Penguin nesting sites in Wellington and can hear them call during calm, cold nights. We regularly have seals, purpoises, dolphins and the occasional Orca and Southern Right Whale come to visit. We even have a species of algae that can only be found on this stretch of the coast, and in Otago Harbour. And we have a giant kelp forest harbouring a huge abundance of species – by the way, the same species that made the Taputeranga Marine Reserve special enough to be declared a reserve.
This is a special place, Wellington’s taonga and an integral part of the South Coast and Lyall Bay. Living here means being connected to nature and your environment, you get to know the wind, the tides, the sun and moonsets and rises and the changing of the seasons intimately. This is so very special when living less than 20 minutes from a Capital City. We are good neighbours, many of us close friends but also leaving each other be, always supporting each other when needed. We seem to have a disproportionate abundance of scientists, lawyers, business owners, government officials, both working and retired, and greenies in this suburb. The people who live here, its guardians, have usually lived here for a very long time. When we went around the table during a neighbours’ meeting, we found that we lived here for an average of 17 years, with the longest resident being here for over 33 years. Compare that with the 83% of the private rental market that have a tenure of 4 years or less. We’re here to stay.
Unless the airport of course destroys this special suburb with its extension plans. Not only will it ruin this magical spot, its penguin habitat and our little bay, it will also impact along the wider South Coast, the Lyall Bay surf break, the marine reserve, the sewerage operations and cause transport bottlenecks, both during construction and operation. Just think that there will be 120 trucks an hour for 30 months minimum going through all of Wellington with clean fill! And all this for – if we’re lucky, as no airline said they want to fly here long-haul – only one extra flight a day with an extra 110 visitors coming in. The airport says this will bring $140m to Wellington each year (extrapolating wildly, as usual) – not mentioning that it costs $160m a year just to maintain the extra planes!
It’s not just us residents who are questioning the dubious business case of this extension, the airport itself says it’s not economical, the National Government is certainly skeptical, and even the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are starting to call for a business case and certain long-haul airline commitment first before committing any more of their rate- and taxpayer monies to this project.
It is important to note that the assertion by the airport in the Dom Post that it will release a business case in two weeks, is disingenuous. They will release a cost-benefit analysis, which is a small sub-part of a proper business case (under Treasury’s Better Business Case Framework) and the impact studies the ratepayers paid for for the resource consent. These have very little to do with a proper business case. It is also important to note that not going through the fast-tracked board of inquiry process is an admission that they know they would fail. Going through the more protracted Environment Court hearings has nothing to do with a ‘more open and transparent process’ and everything with buying themselves time and bleeding the opponents dry due to the high costs associated with fighting a project like this through the Court. It also means many more years of this existential threat hanging over our heads, which is stressful in many ways – emotionally, financially and physically.
The airport has never been a good neighbour, not to us and not to the other 700+ houses affected in its ‘Noise Precinct’. The city and eastern suburbs had numerous stoushes with it, over the death of Bridge Street, the outrage over the dumb ‘Wellywood’ sign, the loss of public access to Stuart Duff Drive etc. A runway extension has been opposed to as long as the airport has existed. They have recently, after much public pressure, done better in their consultation of ‘affected’ groups (which seems to largely amount to bribing them, including us, although we did get access to the confidential draft reports for the resource consent early, for which we are grateful).
On the one hand, you could say we are lucky having an airport so central to the city. On the other hand, you have to question the sanity of the developers who used prime South Coast land to plonk a noisy, emission-spewing airport that cannot expand, unless it fills in all of Lyall or large parts of Evans Bay, for its freight operations; that is buying up low-decile schools and neighbourhoods to turn into corporate wastelands; that sits on a fault line and in a tsunami path; and is highly threatened by rising sea levels and increased Cook Strait storms (including on all its very narrow access roads). Think about how special this part of the coast could be without an airport and how much more secure an airport would be that is situated on more stable and resilient land further north. It’s certainly our dream, but isn’t it time we all start talking about other, smarter, more resilient options as a City?
Dr Rotmann is co-chair of the Guardians of the Bays