Councillors’ bid to take stance against Wellington Airport expansion fails to take off

A group of Wellington City councillors have failed in their bid for the council to take a public stance against the expansion plans for the capital’s airport.

Wellington Airport and Golf Course

Wellington Airport and Golf Course Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Councillor Iona Pannett put forward a notice of motion, and told councillors today that publicly opposing the development would be in line with the council’s declaration of a climate emergency.

Wellington Airport is expecting passenger numbers to double by 2040.

It wants to expand, absorbing part of the neighbouring golf course so it can take more planes.

After appointing an external panel on the matter, a delegated decision maker of the council approved the development.

The notice motion stated that unless the airport and airlines reduce carbon emissions and noise for the neighbouring suburbs, it should not expand.

The notice was backed by deputy mayor Sarah Free and councillors Teri O’Neill, Laurie Foon and Tamatha Paul.

For more than two hours, councillors asked questions of the legal team and officers, trying to make sense of the ramifications of passing the motion.

The council owns a third of the airport, which is currently being taken to the Environment Court on the expansion plans by lobby groups.

Councillors argued that the notice of motion is the only way councillors can make a public stance.

Councillors Tamatha Paul and Iona Pannett agreed that they were not scared of the legal risks presented to the council on the matter.

“Ninety-two percent of Wellingtonians said that they wanted action on climate change, so that’s pretty straight forward – I this is a pretty obvious thing we can do, to prevent an airport from expanding” Paul said.

Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons said the motion would be misleading the public if it passed, because the council can’t stop the expansion.

“Those who signed this notice of motion also agreed to the delegations. We gave away this power already so I don’t think it’s responsible to try and bring it back,” she said.

The notice of motion failed 5-7.

Mayor Andy Foster told councillors that if they wanted the airport to stop its expansion, people would have to stop flying.

“The airport’s only going to invest logically if that growth continues… so it will be a response to the choices people make,” Foster said.

Guardian of the Bay’s Benoit Pette said the decision was incredibly disappointing.

“Councillors had the opportunity to make a clear statement in favour of the climate, and they got cough instead in procedural process debate,” he said.

But the group – made up of residents around the airport – are still processing with their legal bid to stop the expansion.

The Guardians of the Bay Inc and International and Climate-Safe Travel Institute will have a hearing against the airport in November.

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