Longer runway, park revamp gets thumbs up from council
Plans to extend Wellington Airport's runway have received council support, despite a move to axe $90 million in funding for the project.
The Wellington City Council's governance, finance and planning committee has agreed to support the project, while emphasising that any investment would be contingent on a solid business case, and commitment from a long-haul airline.
But some councillors expressed concerns about the project and lack of support for it, and said the funding should be removed from the council's budget until the business case stacked up.
The vote was part of an ongoing Long-Term Plan debate, which was in the second of three days. The plan sets budgets for the next 10 years and includes an average rates increase of 3.9 per cent, with a 5.1 per cent increase in 2015-16. The finalised plan will go to the full council for signoff in June.
The budget includes $90m towards Wellington Airport's $300m runway extension, which is planned to attract long-haul carriers.
Andy Foster said the plan was always to get a robust business case, but it was important to make that clear to the public, to remove any doubt that it would stack up before ratepayer money was handed over.
Both he and Helene Ritchie tabled motions calling for business cases, but Ritchie went a step further and said funding should be removed from the budget until the case was proved.
It would be "fiscally irresponsible" to commit money before then, she said.
But other councillors rejected that idea, and said the money had to be in the budget to give the project a chance to succeed.
Justin Lester said the money was scheduled for later years and would be reassessed in the next Long-Term Plan, so taking it out now was simply making a political statement to undermine the project.
"You recognise the potent symbol of taking the money out of the budget."
Councillors supported the move to emphasise the requirement for a business case, saying it would ease public concerns. But they voted down Ritchie's motion to remove the funding. Ritchie, Iona Pannett, David Lee and Sarah Free supported the removal of the money.
Earlier in the day, the councillors agreed to bulldoze the amphitheatre on Wellington's waterfront to make way for an open lawn facing the sea when they agreed to a three-year plan for the waterfront that includes a complete revamp of Frank Kitts Park.
The revamp will also includes a new playground and cost ratepayers $5.5m, while the Chinese community will contribute about $4m towards the creation of a Chinese Garden within the park.
Debate on the waterfront plan was dominated by the redesign of Frank Kitts Park.
Justin Lester said the waterfront development plan was a good approach, but he was amazed the redevelopment of Frank Kitts had caused the most controversy with the public. "I'm absolutely confounded as to why. The design is exceptional."
However, some councillors expressed concern about the ability of the Chinese community to guarantee its part of the funding. Simon Woolfcalled for the project to be delayed, and only maintenance carried out until the funding was guaranteed, especially when there were higher priorities.
But his motion lost, and other councillors said it was time to get on with it.
In particular, agreements made with the Chinese government and sister cities had to be honoured, Foster said. "The loss of face and the loss of reputation would be enormous."
Other aspects of the waterfront development plan approved by the committee include a new helicopter facility on Queen's Wharf, continued investigation of a film museum, relocation of the motorhome park, and development of the Kumutoto area with a building on site 10.
Foster successfully moved that the addition of a children's bike and scooter area in Waitangi Park would be investigated.
The entire waterfront plan was eventually approved, with Pannett and Ritchie voting against it.