Opponents of Northland Rescue Helicopter shift taking issue to High Court

Opponents of moving the Northland Rescue Helicopter from its Kensington Base, above, to Onerahi Airport, are taking their concerns to the High Court.

Onerahi residents opposed to shifting Northland’s rescue helicopter base from Kensington to Whangārei Airport have gone to the High Court.

Opposition group Save Onerahi from Undue Noise Disturbance (Sound) wants the Whangārei District Council’s (WDC) 2021 and 2022 decisions to lease Onerahi airport land to Northland Emergency Services Trust (Nest) quashed.

However, the council plans to defend its decision-making, while Nest says it is firmly focused on providing the service to the Northland community.

Sound is pursuing a court order that WDC acted unlawfully in its decisions to lease the land to Nest to be used as the base for its operations. The service is currently operating out of Whangārei’s Kensington.

On September 19, the Onerahi group filed judicial review proceedings under the Judicial Review Procedure Act 2016 in the Whangārei High Court against WDC and Nest. An amended claim followed on October 14, and in reply, WDC and Nest filed their statements of defence on November 4.

Sound said in its amended statement of claim that WDC’s decisions in 2021 and again this year to lease airport land to Nest were decisions “no reasonable decision-maker could have made”.

The group also wants the court to order that WDC considers any proposal to relocate Nest operations to the airport in accordance with law and any directions from the court.

Local Democracy Reporting Northland sought WDC’s statement of defence, but it would not provide it.

WDC general manager for planning and development, Dominic Kula, said WDC would be defending its decision-making.

“While it is regrettable these matters are now before the court, Council believes its decision-making processes have been robust. Council respects that the court process is now under way, and in the interests of preserving the parties’ rights to a fair hearing, will not be commenting further on these matters.”

WDC will file evidence and legal submissions in support of the position it had taken in its statement of defence, Kula said.

He declined to comment further in response to specific matters raised by Sound in its statement of claim.

Sound said WDC councillors deciding on the airport lease had not had the airport noise production information necessary to do so. They, therefore, did not understand the existing airport activity noise, the total extra noise that would be added to this through the addition of Nest’s helicopter operations, nor the cumulative effects of that addition.

“It was not possible for the council to determine whether the Nest activity could be accommodated at the airport in a manner that would comply with the requirements of the District Plan relating to noise emissions.”

Local Democracy Reporting Northland also sought Nest’s statement of defence, but Nest chief executive Craig Gibbons said doing so was not appropriate.

“On the basis there is a court case under way, it is not appropriate to release related documentation – nor do we intend to play this out in public,” Gibbons said.

“Our focus remains firmly on faithfully serving our strongly supportive community and providing a high level of care to people in Northland 24/7.”

Sound said no monitoring of current-level Nest helicopter noise airport activity had been done, meaning councillors were not able to assess whether there were any noise compliance issues before adding extra noise from the Kensington helicopter base shift into the Onerahi airport noise production budget mix.

It said the lease decision-makers could not have considered the consequences of relocating Nest to the airport. These included other airport activity potentially being required to be displaced to accommodate Nest activity without breaching the District Plan or the original WDC-55 land use designation specifying the land’s usage purpose as an airport.

Sound’s statement of claim says WDC failed, as required under the Local Government Act (LGA), to consult the Onerahi community before it decided to lease the airport land to Nest. It had also failed to comply with the airport noise management plan.

Sound is also seeking a High Court declaration that WDC has a duty under the Resource Management Act (RMA)’s Section 16 to avoid emissions of unreasonable noise levels at the airport, plus a duty under the same Act’s Section 17 to avoid, remedy or mitigate the effects of the airport’s current and future activities. It also wants the declaration to require compliance with specific rules around engine testing and noise from aircraft operations in the airport’s original WDC-55 land use designation and District Plan.

Sound’s statement of claim outlines a number of changes to underpinning council planning documents over the last 20 years that it says have negatively impacted the residential community surrounding the airport. These include changes to District Plan updates, and changes to prevailing RMA airport land use designations and the airport noise management plan. It has also included the airport noise management committee in this realm.

■ Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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