MAYOR APPEALS TO GOVT. MINISTERS TO SAVE KĀPITI AIRPORT

Kapiti’s Mayor K Gurunathan has made a desperate appeal to five Government Ministers to step in and save Kapiti Airport.

He says: ‘Honourable Ministers, one of the lessons from our national response to the Covid-19 Pandemic has been the realisation that an all-of-government approach in conjunction with community partnerships was needed to fight the pandemic.

Plan to shut airport

In his open letter, the Mayor continues: ‘You will be aware from media reports, and direct appeals to your respective offices from stakeholders, that NZ Property Group, the new owners of Kāpiti Airport, have signalled their desire to close the Airport.

This will have disastrous consequences. This letter chronicles the many appeals made to five Ministers holding portfolios relevant to the threat posed to this Airport and its strategic service to the district, region and nationally.

‘Disastrous consequences,’ warns Mayor

The concluding appeal is to the Minister of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, the Hon. Andrew Little to help secure the return of the ancestral land to the descendants of the original owners and secure the future of an operational Airport. 

Hon. Chris Hipkins, as Minister of Health you will have received an appeal from senior medical practitioners leading the Intensive Care Unit of Wellington Hospital.

‘Potential loss of life’

The Emergency Aeromedical Retrieval Service operates out of Wellington Hospital’s ICU. Dr Alex Psirides clinical leader of the ICU and Karyn Hathaway, the Acting Charge Nurse Manager of the ICU, have said that the closure of Kāpiti Airport would impact upon aeromedical retrieval with “potential adverse consequences for patients.”

The public read this as an alert on potential loss of life including the lives of children.

They have pointed out that Kāpiti Airport provides an alternative to Wellington Airport for this critical service.

Moving ‘critically ill children’

The service extends to retrieval services based in Auckland including the Starship Air Ambulance PICU service that retrieve critically ill children from the greater Wellington Region. It similarly serves Organ Donation NZ and the national ECMO retrieval service based in Auckland City Hospital. 

Air ambulance taking off

Hon. Peeni Henare, as Minister of Civil Defence you will have noted the direct appeal to you by Mayor Anita Baker, Chair of the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group for the Wellington Region.

The Group represents all the region’s mayors. Ms Baker’s letter notes the Airport’s “vital role in the region’s continuity during an emergency which is acknowledged within the Wellington Earthquake National Initial Response Plan.” “

This Airport has the capacity to receive (within an initial response period), fixed wing aircraft and the ability to support short-runway capable aircraft with a 1-tonne cargo capacity, or more than 10 passengers.

The site as a self-contained transit node (with on-site Jet A-1 and Avgas fuel supplies), acts as a medical evacuation zone for vulnerable and injured people and is also recognised as a Potential National Assembly Area” said the Chair adding that its location ensured communities at risk of isolation are connected when road and rail networks are disrupted.

She has alerted you that any closure would have a significant impact on this plan and the response to a major emergency event impacting the region. Minister, Mayor Baker has requested a response from the Government to support the Wellington region’s civil defence plans. 

Vital role after quakes

Hon. Ron Mark, as Minister of Defence you would have received an appeal alerting you to the responsibilities of the defence forces. Annex 1 to the Wellington Earthquake National Initial Response Plan tasks the New Zealand Defence Force “when supply chains and support arrangements allow, to be prepared to operate from forward refuelling sites at Kāpiti Airport.”

Any closure will have a significant impact on this plan and the expected response to a major earthquake impacting the region. The question posed to you as Minister of Defence is can you please advise what your response is to (me).

Hon. Phil Twyford, Minister of Transport. Back in April 2018, following the suspension of Air New Zealand services out of Kāpiti Airport you received a document signed by all the eight mayors of the region appealing to you and the Minister of Defence to take steps to protect the Airport’s status as strategic regional asset in civil emergency preparedness.

More recently, you would have received a letter from the Kāpiti Aero Club detailing the Wellington Regional Policy Statement which identifies this Airport as a Regionally significant Infrastructure which notes the efficient use and development of such infrastructure can be adversely affected by development.

Currently, Airport related activity includes more than 46 direct employment estimated to inject $2.3m into the local economy.

#The June 2018 report by TDB Advisory Ltd estimated the net economic benefit of the Airport to Kāpiti residents to be $4.3m per year.

The Airport is used by two scheduled air services operated by Air Chathams and Sounds Air.

With the government’s roading investment, including Transmission Gully and the highway north of Kāpiti to the Horowhenua, the Airport’s market catchment will expand to include Porirua and Horowhenua.

Any closure will impact on the current and future potential of these services. It will also impact general aviation as this Airport, with its refuelling and engineering capacity, is a critical staging point and haven for light aircraft crossing the Cook Strait.

The (Aero) Club also operates flight training services for young people guiding them into careers in aviation. 

Treaty of Waitnngi and Maori airport land

Hon. Andrew Little, as Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations you have been contacted by media to respond to appeals by the original owners of the Airport land.

Their ancestral lands were taken by the Crown under the Public Works Act for defence purposes in 1939.

The lands have not been returned, even though the lands have been used for private commercial purposes.

The original owners have legitimate claims being considered right now by the Waitangi Tribunal which is yet to release its findings and recommendations.

The descendants of the original owners fear that the continued sale of their lands will put it further and further out of their reach and putting at risk the Airport operations that the Kāpiti community has depended on.

Kāpiti Coast District council supports the call, by the descendants of the original owners, for the Crown to return their ancestral lands.

The descendants want the Government to immediately purchase the Airport lands, allow Kāpiti Airport to continue operating, and hold the lands in a Crown land-bank until negotiations with Mana Whenua can occur under an appropriate and mana-enhancing negotiation framework.

Minister, while we respect your media response that it’s a complex issue, this Treaty-based resolution is the best way forward to resolve this complex matter to deliver a long-awaited justice to the descendants of the original owners and protect a critical medical emergency and civil defence strategic asset that is challenging the responsibilities of several of your fellow Ministers. 

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The airport closure “will have disastrous consequences” means for the present Kapiti mayor’s popularity with voters. In reality the Council stands to benefit financially from the land being subdivided up for housing — lots of big developer contributions and then lots of new Ratepayers handing over thousands of dollars a year each to the council.

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