Northland’s emergency rescue helicopter base will stay in Kensington, Whangārei, for now.
Northland’s controversial rescue helicopter base is to stay on at Kensington in Whangārei “for at least another year or two” – in spite of its decade-long lease expiring on July 31.
Northland Emergency Services Trust (NEST) chief executive Craig Gibbons did not specify how long that lease extension might be for, other than to say the operation needed to stay on in Kensington “for some months yet”.
Gibbons said the trust was focused on moving.
“Our plan remains focused on moving our operation to Onerahi, as that is the ideal location for our base,” he said.
“Most importantly for our community, we will continue doing our best to protect and save the lives of people in Northland through flying around 1200 missions annually. We have flown 335 missions between January 1 and April 18, which again shows the need for this life-saving service.”
Whangārei District Council (WDC) which owns the land NEST leases, this week confirmed the operation will likely stay on at the site “for at least a year or two”. WDC district development manager Tony Collins said the new lease from August 1 was for up to three years.
“We intend to let it [the base] remain while matters are resolved, given it is an existing use at the site and that there is a clear intention to move as has been shown in all the activities to date. The existing reserve management plan for Kensington Park provides for air ambulances services at this location,” Collins said.
Kensington residents spoken to by Local Democracy Reporting have reacted angrily to hearing the base will be staying on.
Former New Zealand Fire Service area commander for the Far North and Kensington resident Allan Kerrisk, said a resolution of what had become an ongoing situation was required.
Kensington’s Julie Hartnell-Browne said she was disappointed.
She said NEST had outgrown its social licence for the site. It had known for some time that the Kensington lease would expire, but it was still at the location with less than three months to go before its tenure ran out.
“Kensington residents are being held over a barrel by NEST and the council because of their inaction,” Hartnell-Browne said.
“It’s been in the too-hard basket for too long and become more of a problem because it hasn’t been addressed.”
Hartnell-Browne has written to Transport Minister Michael Wood expressing her concerns about the base staying at Kensington.
She said NEST was persisting with moving to Whangārei Airport at Onerahi, in spite of neighbours there now stepping up their opposition in the High Court. That hearing will be in August – the month after the Kensington lease expires.
Collins said the court process would not be completed until 2024, after which NEST would require time to complete moving its base.
“Council proposes to extend the current lease at Kensington until matters have been resolved,” Collins said.
He said the council had approved in principle the move to Onerahi in a timely fashion. Delays had been caused by legal challenges to the process used to give the approval in principle. That unanimous council approval – without community consultation – came at a November 2021 extraordinary council meeting.
Kerrisk said the Kensington base should not be moving to Onerahi. That would simply be shifting noise issues to another residential community, he said.
Collins acknowledged many in Kensington had been anticipating the rescue helicopter’s departure and would likely be disappointed by news of the shift delay.
Hartnell-Browne told Transport Minister Wood the presence of the helicopter at Kensington may have been understandable in 1988 when it was originally proposed to use the current site as a temporary measure. That was no longer the case 35 years later when the fleet had grown by more than 30 per cent and the number of daily flights significantly increased, she said in her letter.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air