Wellington Scoop

Rising sea levels and the runway extension

airport narrow
National Library

by Richard Randerson
News that Wellington Airport will shortly release a business case on the proposed airport runway extension is to be welcomed as a step to greater transparency. But how much transparency will it deliver? The tired mantra of ‘300 metres for $300 million’ has been around for a long time now, while plans have shifted and costs have doubtless risen.

And the environmental viability of airport operations is seriously undermined by news this week from Victoria University researcher Dr Nick Golledge that melting ice from Antarctica is likely to add another 40 cm to sea level rise predictions, on top of the roughly one metre previously expected to inundate Wellington’s coastal suburbs by 2100. Already storm surges are washing away roading around the south coast, with both Cobham Drive and Moa Point access roads underwater in recent years.

Economically, Wellingtonians will be looking for more robust costings and benefits than have so far been available. Speculation about regional profits of $640 million by 2060 lack credibility. Forecasting 45 years ahead is no more than fantasy, and the amount cited scarcely breath-taking.

When assessing costs, a gold standard is set by Treasury’s Better Business Case template. The BBC looks for answers to key questions in terms of strategy, value for money, commercial viability, affordability and project management. Any business case requires objective peer review following the above criteria. We call on the City Council to ensure such a review is made and publicised so that ratepayers may judge on facts rather than pipe-dreams.

The question of who will pay begs a better answer than anything provided to date. WIAL’s own confidence in the viability of the project is undermined by its statement that it would not be profitable for it to contribute more than $50million of the estimated $300million cost, a cost that is sure to rise. Wellington ratepayers, both residential and commercial, should be watching their hip-pockets closely to avoid being fleeced for a project that to date has no credible rationale and could be a very expensive white elephant.

The runway extension project has run for too long on bright images and glossy PR. Now is the time for rational analysis and objective decision-making by Council and citizens based on reliable information from disinterested parties.

* Richard Randerson is ch-chair of Guardians of the Bays, a citizen group formed in July 2013 to oppose extension of the Wellington Airport runway on both economic and environmental grounds.


  1. Esjay, 18. October 2015, 17:24

    The Airport Business Case will be awaited with great interest, particularly that it will be completed in 2 weeks. The Wellington City Council has promised to consult with the wider community over this document. The Airport Company has announced that public consultation will eventuate in November. I am waiting with baited breath. Perhaps the public will learn the “true” cost of the runway extension at the same time.

  2. Richard, 18. October 2015, 20:25

    It would be great if we do hear the “true” cost. My feeling is that WIAL want to conceal the true cost until they get resource consent as another step on the way to “too late to turn back now”.

  3. South Coaster, 20. October 2015, 9:54

    I hope the Council does not let the airport get away with flippant use of the term ‘business case’ if they want our money for their project!

  4. clive anstey, 20. October 2015, 19:44

    I agree that the WIAL strategy is to obtain a resource consent and then use this as ‘the case’ for an extension. You don’t need a business case to get a resource consent but you do need a resource consent to raise money; who is going to commit finance to a project that may not get a resource consent? (Other than our council.) And you can’t cost a project without detailed plans and without knowing the conditions of consent. So don’t hold your breath for a ‘business case’. There is a lot of money yet to be found and I’m sure Richard Randerson is right; the numbers we have been working with are way out of date.