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Final Recommendation On ‘Emotional’ Runway Hearing Not Expected For Weeks

It will be several weeks before a final recommendation is given on Nelson Airport’s plans to extend its runway north.

The “emotionally charged” hearing for the airport’s private plan change request and notice of requirement began on Monday and was adjourned on Friday afternoon.

“These are always emotional,” hearings panel chair Helen Atkins said.

“That’s not a bad thing, it’s really important that people bring their thoughts, their values, their important pieces of their lives to bring to bear to this conversation.”

The airport is seeking to gain the necessary planning approval to improve safety, and better cater for future growth and low-emission aircraft, which would include the ability to extend the existing runway to the north within the next 10-15 years.

While Atkins, and her fellow commissioners Lindsay Daysh and David McMahon, have extensive experience dealing in airport planning matters, she said Nelsonians have raised “unique considerations” that they haven’t seen elsewhere.

That’s because the changes, as currently sought, could result in the eviction of 115 long-term residents at the Tāhuna Beach Holiday Park who are caught in bureaucratic limbo, and the closure of the Nelson Golf Club.

Dozens of residents and organisations also voiced their concerns about increased noise from aircraft, development restrictions, environmental effects, and community engagement to the panel of commissioners over the course of the week.

The airport’s counsel, Allison Arthur-Young, said it had been a “heavy week”, and specifically highlighted the challenges being faced by the long-term residents in the holiday park.

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“Frankly, the legal challenges here and the uncertainty for people in the camp, it is much more serious than I even anticipated at the beginning of this week.”

Nelson City Council will give more clarity on the background of the situation facing the residents and its legal advice on the situation, in addition to providing its own expert evidence to the panel, when the hearing reconvenes on Thursday afternoon.

The hearing will then adjourn again for a period of about 6 weeks for Nelson Airport to engage in further discussions with the Nelson Golf Club, Tāhuna Beach Holiday Park, and the council to try and reach a more palatable outcome for all parties.

The commissioners, after hearing the results of those discussions will then issue a timeframe for which the airport to make its right of reply – potentially another 4 weeks.

Once all those processes have concluded and the commissioners are satisfied they have all the information they need to make a final recommendation, the hearing will be officially closed and deliberation will begin.

Atkins applauded Arthur-Young for suggesting the period of additional discussion with the other parties.

“It’s certainly made our view of this process a lot more positive than it otherwise would have been,” she said.

“It’s never nice to have to land at the end of a process and then know that you’re going to have to… make a recommendation that’s just not going to please anybody. I’m not of the camp that says if you’ve upset everyone then you’ve obviously done a good job, that’s not my style.”

Local Democracy Reporting is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air

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