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Whenuapai Equals Jobs

December 3, 2004

Whenuapai Equals Jobs, Jobs, and Getting To Work Quicker

The Cabinet will soon consider its response to the proposal of Waitakere City Council to develop commercial aviation at Whenuapai Airport. This will mark the culmination of two years of consultation, review and analysis by several government agencies since it was announced, in 2002, that Defense Forces were to move from Whenuapai.

The Defence move will cost Waitakere's economy around $230 million a year.

Bryan Mogridge heads a "taskforce", set up by Waitakere City Council to pursue the plan for a commercial Airport. He says that the Auckland region is not coping with a near doubling of its population in the last 40 years. "Whenuapai is an opportunity for decisive action to make a marked difference within a relatively short period and at no cost to tax or rate payers."

"The Auckland region, with its complex local government scene, has a history of protracted discussion - and too little action too late. The motorway system designed in the 1960's has yet to be completed, there are no agreed plans for an additional crossing of the Waitemata Harbour, and passenger rail was on the brink of extinction before the strategic long term value of the rail corridors was finally recognised. Small wonder the region's productivity, per-capita income and wealth have fallen behind the rest of the country.

With Whenuapai, Auckland can achieve what many cities around the world would eagerly grasp -- a second commercial airport, ideally located, and able to be created without development cost or risk to taxpayer or ratepayer. Whenuapai can make a real difference to the sustainable development of the region, by stimulating the creation of local jobs and addressing the imbalance of traffic flows to employment areas in the South," Mr Mogridge says.

He adds that a clean disposal process, through the Public Works Act, would also avoid lengthy and expensive "mistakes" such as what has occurred when defence forces have tried to quit bases such as Papakura, and Shelly Bay. By partnering with the local Council, the Government will also achieve a better financial outcome than when various parties come from different angles, he says.

"As the Auckland region struggles to provide the infrastructure needed to handle predicted growth, there is a need for certainty over Whenuapai. All those wanting the airport, whether it is business, airlines, the traveling public, local bodies and those involved in transport and commercial and industrial development need certainty of the way ahead," Mr Mogridge says.

He also says that local residents need to be given certainty about what will happen on the site.

- Key facts in the debate are:

- Waitakere City Council and New Zealand infrastructure investment company Infratil are committed to developing a commercial airport as soon as possible. There are many airports around the world where military and commercial users co-exist and delay puts the opportunity at risk.

- Before civil use can start it will be necessary to agree commercial and operating terms with Government/Defence and to gain regulatory approvals (through the Resource Management Act) in respect of environmental consents and civil aviation regulations. Several airlines have indicated they favour using Whenuapai to provide air services to other NZ centres, eastern Australia and the Pacific Islands.

- The concept is supported by most Auckland local bodies, as well as the Auckland Regional Council, and by most Aucklanders -- professional opinion polls have consistently shown support across the region.

- Business and tourism operators in the region's north and west and the majority of residents strongly support Whenuapai and understand the benefits of being better connected. Auckland City is a supporter for the same reason (notwithstanding also being Auckland International Airport's largest shareholder). Another supporter, Rodney District, is the fastest growing region in the North Island.

More people (potential travelers) already live closer to Whenuapai than to Mangere. Projections are that more than a million people will live in the west and north of the Auckland Region and this is the only possible site for a second airport to serve that rapidly growing population.

- While Whenuapai will have a positive impact on the creation of jobs in Auckland's west and north and in reducing transport congestion, it will only ever be a small cousin to AIA. AIA's calculation is that by 2020 Whenuapai will have 26,000 annual aircraft movements (about the same as now). By 2020 AIA estimates it will be serving 200,000 annual aircraft movements. Claims that Whenuapai could impact the viability of Mangere's second runway or result in higher charges are absurd.

If Whenuapai is not retained as an airport, Waitakere City Council and the Auckland Regional Council have determined that its alternative use is as lifestyle blocks. It will not be developed for intensive residential or industrial use as these applications would be inconsistent with the Auckland Regional Growth Strategy. Whenuapai is outside of the Metropolitan Urban Limit.

If the Airport is closed it will mean the withdrawal of Defense's $230 million of annual economic stimulation to the economy of Waitakere City. It will mean huge site remediation costs, including some 46,000 truckloads of debris to dispose of the concrete runways alone. It will also mean that ultimately Waitakere City and its ratepayers will have to bear the cost of services upgrades (such as sewerage), which are conservatively estimated at more than $20 million. These costs to the City will not be balanced by any economic gains

Waitakere City Council has been accused of wanting a "sweetheart deal" that will somehow adversely impact Government and Auckland Airport's finances. In fact, in the joint Waitakere/Infratil submission to Defense and in the follow up proposal to the joint ministries working group it has been made clear that Waitakere/Infratil are prepared to pay fair value for land and facilities (based on its value as an airport). Only by working in partnership with Waitakere City Council will the Crown optimize the value of the site.

AIA is visited by over 21 million people a year, approximately 45% of whom are flying. Less than half its income is from aeronautical charges. Its growth requires huge investment in roads, which it wants tax and ratepayers to finance. AIA is a monopoly. Whenuapai promotes commercial competition and choice for travelers.

Mr Mogridge says that the choice facing the government is relatively simple: "Retain and have someone else develop the airport to the betterment of many - or destroy it to create lifestyle blocks for a few."

"When Auckland's population has doubled in 40 years, the wisdom of retaining existing infrastructures, encouraging competition and providing choices for consumers will be crystal clear.

The Government should act decisively in the interests of a region too often disadvantaged by discussion at the expense of action."


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