Airport to stretch south, not north

RECLAMATION:  Material dredged from Wellington Harbour  could be used to reclaim land  for a southern extension of Wellington Airport.
RECLAMATION: Material dredged from Wellington Harbour could be used to reclaim land for a southern extension of Wellington Airport.

A 300-metre runway extension at Wellington Airport looks likely to get off the ground - but at the southern end, not at Evans Bay.

Airport spokesman Greg Thomas said extensions at both ends had been investigated, and that the southern option was "very much a possibility", though nothing could be confirmed for a few months.

However, several sources told The Dominion Post the extension would likely go south into Lyall Bay.

Thomas confirmed material dredged from Wellington Harbour by CentrePort could be used to reclaim land for the extension.

"Until our engineering assessment is completed, we can't confirm exactly what is required or what the detailed design to build the extension would be."

The airport announced last year that it was considering a 300-metre extension at the northern (city) end into Evans Bay. That was met by resistance from angry Wellingtonians, who subsequently formed Guardians of Evans Bay to fight the proposal.

Initial estimates put the projected cost of the extension at $300 million - or $1 million a metre.

Thomas said the final cost would be established after engineering reports had been completed, but the extension was still expected to be about $300m.

Infratil owns two-thirds of the airport, with the rest owned by Wellington City Council. Thomas said that, until the costs for the extension were finalised, Wellington Airport had not determined how much it would contribute towards construction.

"There is a very significant, direct economic contribution to the region that justifies both public and private funding."

Extending the runway would enable bigger, fully-laden, long-haul aircraft from Asia, with connections to Europe, to use the airport. It claims additional tourism generated by a single daily service to Asia would contribute about $44m a year and create more than 300 jobs.

Exposure to the international student market could further contribute $70m a year in regional benefits and 1200 jobs.

Last year Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce distanced the Government from the extension project, saying future growth and investment in the capital would not hinge on a longer runway.

It is unclear to what extent, if any, the city council would fund the project. But it is one of its "Eight Big Ideas for Economic Growth" and it has already provided $1m to help with lodging the airport's consent application early next year.

Guardians of Evans Bay chairman Richard Randerson said not having the extension going north would be good, but questions remained about the viability of the expansion idea regardless. "We wonder whether any extension has justification."