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Wellington Airport given more time for runway extension plans

The Environment Court has given Wellington Airport more time to resubmit its resource consent for its runway extension plans.

In 2013, Wellington Airport sought permission to extend its runway by 355m to allow bigger planes to land. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

But the court says the substantial delays in the case reflected badly on the administration of justice and it was aware many participants had “had enough”.

In 2013, Wellington Airport sought permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to extend its runway by 355m to allow bigger planes to land.

The CAA accepted those plans, including a 90m safety area at each end of the runway.

However, the Airline Pilots Association challenged that decision, arguing the safety areas were too short.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court which in 2017 backed the pilots.

The airport has resubmitted its proposal to the CAA, which has indicated it will take until May to make a decision.

During the judicial conference last month, opponents asked the Environment Court to throw out the airport’s resource consent because of the delays and the change in circumstances.

Wellington Airport sought to put its application for a resource consent on hold for six months, to allow it time to re-file its application with the CAA.

The lawyer for Guardians of the Bay and Hue te Taka, James Gardiner-Hopkins, argued the stress of being involved in complicated, prolonged and costly legal proceedings was taking its toll on participants.

In its decision, the court said the stress of litigation was well-recognised.

“We have no doubt that many participants in these proceedings will have ‘had enough’. It reflects badly on the administration of justice when proceedings become as prolonged as these and we accept that there is a consequential adverse and real effect on the community which arises as the result of the delay which is experienced in this case.”

It said the uncertainty over the decision hung over participants like “the Sword of Damocles. Again we accept that this is a real effects and one which is highly undesirable.”

But it said striking out the application for resource consent would do little to alleviate opponents concerns.

“As we have noted previously, Wellington International Airport Limited has signalled quite unequivocally that in the event that the current proceedings are struck out, it will file fresh applications for resource consents on a similar basis if its 90m Runway End Safety Areas (RESA) proposal subsequently receives the (CAAs) Director’s approval.”

While acknowledging the negative impact of the delays, it also said they were understandable.

“We agree that the delay is substantial but we consider that is is understandable. It has been brought about by proceedings in a different jurisdiction which had a material impact on the ability to advance these applications,” the court said.

In its decision, the court said it faced two options.

Either it struck out the current proceedings, thereby wasting the time, cost and effort the parties had already put in. Or it put the proceedings on hold for six months – even though this meant the uncertainty continued and there was no guarantee the CAA would have made its decision by then.

While both alternatives were unsatisfactory, it ruled allowing Wellington Airport’s application to remain on hold for six months “is the less less unsatisfactory of the two unsatisfactory options before us”.

– Click here to read the full Environment Court decision embedded on the RNZ website.