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Planning Changes At Whenuapai

August 18, 2005

Media Release (For Immediate Release)


Waitakere City Council has moved to ensure that the Whenuapai military airbase can be secured for civilian use in the future.

In 2002, when the government announced that the RNZAF would quit Whenuapai for Ohakea, the Council campaigned for the base to be reused as a commercial airport.

The government subsequently said that the move could take up to 10 years.

Now, to ensure that it can undertake long-term planning for the rapidly growing north-west of the City, Waitakere City Council will start work on a number of district plan changes for the land that the base currently occupies.

“Those planning changes will recognise the existing use of the airbase, and also the Council’s objective that it be reused for commercial aviation,” says the Council’s City Development committee chairperson Penny Hulse.

“Any alternative uses, other than those related to an airport will have to stack up against the City’s long-term objectives.”

An independent economic analysis, conducted last year, shows that the loss to Waitakere City from the air force leaving is estimated at $230million a year (that figure includes 1647 jobs and more than 800 families).

“This is no different to earmarking farmland for future use as a park. We are putting a solid stake in the ground about what the land use should be, bearing in mind the social and economic objectives that we have for the City,” Cr Hulse says.

Mrs Hulse also notes recent conjecture about the need for multi-million dollar investments in roads and motorways to serve Mängere airport.

“We are pretty cynical about AIAL (Auckland International Airport Ltd). How can they have the cheek to suggest that taxpayers fund roads to their business while at the same time oppose a privately funded operation at Whenuapai.”

“There is already a fully functioning airport at Whenuapai. More than half a million people live within a 16km radius of Whenuapai. It’s ridiculous to build more roads an across Auckland when there is already an airport on their doorstep.”


Note: For further information/background attached is the Council report relating to this matter.



The purpose of this report is to update Council on the Whenuapai project and to propose actions that the Council may wish to consider taking to ensure that the potential for Whenuapai to be used as Auckland’s second airport is preserved into the future.


On 10 December 2002 Minister of Defence Mark Burton announced that the results of the Ohakea/Whenuapai basing study and supported its conclusions, which included proposals to consolidate Whenuapai Airbase operations at Ohakea. Public announcements at that stage anticipated that the consolidation process would take
four (4) years. In anticipation of this announcement Council had established a Mayoral Taskforce on the future of Whenuapai (resolution 3252/2002).

On 18 December 2002 Council passed the following resolutions:

1. That the Chief Executive be instructed to work with the Commander of the New Zealand Defence Forces or relevant officer of the New Zealand Defence Forces together with all relevant Returned Service Associations of the Hobsonville and Whenuapai air bases to ensure that a fitting physical memorial to their service to the City and nation is constructed and maintained within Waitakere City.

2. That Waitakere City Council support and promote the development potential of commercial activities at Whenuapai in the interests of wider economic development in a manner consistent with the growth objectives of the City.

3. That Waitakere City Council request that the Chief Executive ensure that any future development of the Whenuapai air base not preclude it functioning as a functioning commercial airport.

4. That Waitakere City Council maintain an option for a shareholding interest in any airport company that may be created to operate Whenuapai air base.

5. That Waitakere City Council recognise the sensitivity of the upper Waitemata Harbour, and provide for sustainable water management based on the principles of the Water Cycle Strategy.

6. That Waitakere City Council in its approach to the development of Whenuapai recognise Council’s commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi.

7. That Waitakere City Council recognise the potential of the Whenuapai air base as a model of sustainable development particularly in relationship to sustainable economic development and efficient use of energy.

8. That Waitakere City Council ensures a fair allocation of the costs of providing infrastructure and public assets in the development of Whenuapai airbase.

9. That Waitakere City Council in its approach to the development of the wider Northern Regional Strategic Growth Area gives priority to land uses that promote economic development.

10. That Council requests that the New Zealand Defence Force or other Crown entity retain ownership of the Whenuapai Airbase Land for the foreseeable future to ensure the long term potential of the air base as an operating airport is retained.

11. That the Chief Executive be authorised to cement in place strategic alliances to achieve the aims of recommendations 1 to 10.”


C2-C22 In April 2003 Council entered into partnership with Infratil, to pursue the commercialisation of the airport. Thereafter Council followed a lengthy process (a full history of Government decisions and announcement is contained in at pages C2 to C22) which was eventually given direction by Government when in July 2004 the Minister of Economic Development was tasked with heading up a “whole of government” report on future use of Whenuapai Airbase.

The report was completed and went to Cabinet in December 2004, and the Minister recommended:

“…Cabinet agree that Officials initiate negotiations with Waitakere City Council (WCC) with a view to reaching mutual agreement on the terms and conditions, including timing, under which the land at Whenuapai specifically required to operate a commercial airport would be acquired under s.50 of the Public Works Act…”

The Minister’s recommendations noted that:

“a case for a second commercial airport in Auckland at Whenuapai is not sufficiently compelling from an air transport necessity perspective to justify central government playing an active role in establishing one.”

However, the recommendations included the following:

“3. Note that if successful, it is expected that a commercial airport at Whenuapai would result in positive net benefits at the local level, compared to the counterfactual of rural residential use. The magnitude and uncertainty of these net benefits do not justify active central government intervention;

4. Note that there are significant uncertainties concerning the short term establishment and the long run viability of an airport at Whenuapai. However the uncertainty and associated risks do not appear to be so great as to indicate that central Government should oppose the commercial airport proposal; …

10. Note that WCC has stated a preference to have a commercial airport at Whenuapai and that it intends to request the transfer of the land. A commercial airport can be deemed a local public work.

11. Note that the Crown must consider, and has a limited discretion to decline, such a request…

22. Agree that given the commercial and public interests removing uncertainty concerning the future use of Whenuapai at the earliest practical opportunity as desirable. While at this stage Government is unable to provide certainty around outcomes and timing, communicating Government’s intended process would be desirable…

23. Agree to communicate to WCC that the disposal of Whenuapai would occur under the PWA.

28. Note that an independent expert third party has been commissioned to further examine the potential impact of a commercial airport at Whenuapai on AIAL’s proposed second runway investment strategy. This finds that it is clear that Whenuapai does introduce uncertainty some risks for AIAL’s business development strategies, however the likely impact on its business plans is difficult to assess. It also finds that AIAL have a range of strategies available to it to manage that risk.”

C23-C46 A copy of the Cabinet paper CAB (04)605 paper of Hon. Jim Anderton, Minister of Economic Development to Cabinet Policy Committee: “Future use of Whenuapai Airbase” is attached at pages C23 to C46.

C47-C48 However, at the Cabinet meeting to consider the paper advice was tabled from the Minister of Defence that the Ohakea Consolidation Project would not be completed until at least 2010 and possibly as late as 2014. Cabinet therefore decided to “defer the decision on the disposal of land at Whenuapai for the time being” (CAB min (04) 41/12, a copy of which is attached at pages C47 to C48).

On Monday, 13 December 2004 the Minister of Economic Development released the following statement.

“The New Zealand Defence Force has now advised Cabinet that the consolidation from Whenuapai to Ohakea will not be completed until at least 2010, and possibly as late as 2014. Indicative planning by Defence suggests that it will take a minimum of 6 years to redevelop and relocate the Air Force to Ohakea.

Therefore, because the land at Whenuapai will clearly not be surplus to defence requirements for some years to come, Cabinet has decided that it is premature to initiate a disposal process at present”.

“The Whenuapai Air Base will be disposed of using the Public Works Act once the Defence Force no longer needs it”.

“We share Waitakere City Council’s interest in minimising the economic impact of the Defence withdrawal from Whenuapai. The Council should be reassured that the Air Force will remain there at full or close to full strength for at least another six years…

The Government is well aware that the Waitakere City Council wishes to use the Whenuapai land for a commercial airport.

As a result of extensive investigation the Government has concluded that there are no compelling national or strategic considerations to justify central Government’s active involvement in establishing a commercial airport at Whenuapai.

The Government has therefore taken a neutral position on whether any such airport should go ahead.”

(Press Release - New Zealand Government Monday 13 December 2004, 4.58 pm “Disposal of Whenuapai Airbase land” - Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton).

The Minister also published a set of questions and answers on the Ministry of Economic Development web site. Question three addressed the question of joint use.

“Question 3. Why can’t the airbase be jointly used by Defence and a commercial airport until the land is declared surplus?

In principle, the Government is not opposed to joint use. However, providing for military operational and security requirements would mean clearly separating any military and commercial activities. This would mean that the commercial operator would need to make a significant investment in developing its own facilities and upgrading the runway. The Government would also be concerned to ensure that any joint use arrangement did not create expectations as to the ultimate outcome of the Public Works Act disposal process. Whether or not such a large investment would be made under those circumstances is rightly a decision for the potential investor.” (Future Use of Whenuapai Airbase; Questions and Answers.
13 December 2004).

On 19 April 2005 North Shore Mayor George Wood, Rodney Mayor John Law, Mayor Bob Harvey and their respective Chief Executive Officers and the writer of this report, met with Chief of Defence for Air Marshall Ferguson, Vice Chief of Defence Vice Marshall Bamfield and Defence Director of Resources and Policy Programmes Colonel Richardson. The purpose of the meeting was to explore the possibility of establishing joint use of the airbase. Defence advised:

- Defence resources were being prioritised on the move from Ohakea to Whenuapai;

- This is expected to take between 6 to 10 years;

- Defence did not have resources to deal with negotiations for joint use;

- Have confirmed with the Minister of Defence that it is too early to consider joint use;

- Joint use would put extra pressure on resources at the base;

- Government have determined that the airbase will be disposed of under the Public Works Act. Like to be declared surplus in 8 to 10 years time;

- Have been instructed not to do anything that may “predetermine” future use.


A leading strategic priority for Waitakere City Council is the creation of a strong local economy and more local jobs - the future development of the Whenuapai area is a key project for the City in relation to this objective.

The airbase represents a substantial physical resource in a strategic location. Because of the combination of existing use rights and the current infrastructure it would be difficult if not impossible to replicate this resource elsewhere in the Auckland region.


At this time the Government has decided not to do anything regarding the future use of Whenuapai. Government is still pursuing the Ohakea consolidation project and considerable investment is going into this project. At some stage in the future, possibly
4 to 8 years, the Minister of Defence will declare the land surplus and dispose of the land under the Public Works Act. In his report to Cabinet, the Minister of Economic Development commented that the only logical short term future use for Whenuapai was as a commercial airport. The report speculated that the planning framework may change in the future and other possible uses may emerge. Government officials and Ministers have made various statements that they will not take action that could predetermine the future use of Whenuapai, when it is declared surplus.

At this stage Council can either accept this state of uncertainty and wait to respond when the land is declared surplus, or move to put in place a regulatory framework through its District Plan in anticipation that at some stage in the future the New Zealand Defence Force will declare the land surplus.

Currently New Zealand Defence Forces operations are provided for by a designation over the site for Defence purposes. The underlying zone is Countryside Environment. There are over 100 Titles that could potentially be uplifted and recreated through the Public Works Act Disposal process. The land has been significantly altered and developed, and the Countryside Environment zone would need to be examined in the future if the land is no longer used for Defence Purposes.

Council has had to face similar issues over the potential impact of disposal of a large area of land at Hobsonville. One of the key actions taken in that process was the development of a concept for the land very early in the disposal process. This clear vision and statement of intent for the future use of Hobsonville has been a significant factor in what has been a lengthy process for Hobsonville, but which is now seeing the outcomes originally sought by the early concept plans cemented in place.

The City has a clear policy position on Whenuapai which it has been pursing for a number of years. While Waitakere City has no control over any decision by the Crown to pursue joint use of the airbase, or how it decides to dispose of the land under the options available to it (i.e. Airport Authorities Act or Public Works Act) the Council is responsible for the management of the natural and physical resources within its boundaries. Specifically, the Council can decide to initiate a District Plan change process to rezone the zone land in order to protect its potential as an airport and to give effect to its policy position.

It is therefore the recommendation of this report that the Council initiate a District Plan change for the Whenuapai Airbase land. The proposed District Plan change process would include examination of options for and proposals to:

- Provide for the existing activities and operations of the New Zealand Defence Force;

- Provide a resource consent process for establishing a civil and joint use airport operation;

- Amend the policies and objectives of the District Plan as necessary to protect the commercial/civil airport potential of Whenuapai in accordance with Council’s policy that Whenuapai be used in the future for commercial airport activities;

- Provide for other potential uses, provided that they do not compromise the commercial/civil potential of the land to be used for commercial airport uses;

- Establish a zone that better reflects existing activities and potential future activities.


There is a sufficient budget in the 2005/2006 Annual Plan to resource this work.


Government has taken the ‘do nothing’ option for Whenuapai for the present. At some stage in the future the land will be declared surplus and disposed of under the Public Works Act. In order for Council to ensure its position that the airbase be used for commercial operations in the future is protected, it is recommended that Council commence work on a District Plan change amending its District Plan policies and objectives to reflect its policy position, and establishing a new zone that better reflects existing activities and potential future activities.


1. That the Whenuapai Airport report be received.

2. That work commence on a District Plan change for Whenuapai Airbase to:

a) Provide for the existing activities and operations of the New Zealand Defence Force.

b) Provide a resource consent process for establishing a civil and joint use airport operation.

c) Amend the policies and objectives of the District Plan as necessary to protect the commercial/civil airport potential of Whenuapai in accordance with Council’s policy that Whenuapai be used in the future for commercial airport activities.

d) Provide for other potential uses, provided that they do not compromise the commercial/civil potential of the land to be used for commercial airport uses.

e) Establish a zone that better reflects existing activities and potential future activities.

3. That this report be made public should the Council decide to proceed with the proposed Plan Change.

Report prepared by: Fraser Henderson, Manager: Strategic Project Group.

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