Gundry's Grumbles

Simon Gundry is a Devonport and North Shore identity, and character, who is known for calling a spade a spade. He is a director of contracting company Gill & Gundry, is an enthusiastic and active sailor (past crew-member of Ceramco New Zealand, Lion New Zealand and Shockwave) and is a life member of the North Shore Rugby Football Club.

Gundry's Gumbles

Time to revisit Whenuapai?

I’ve been contemplating the benefits of air travel as of late. As Kiwis, we have the best of both worlds - we are lucky to be living in an isolated part of the world but we are still able to be a part of the global enclave thanks to air travel.
If we go back in history, just 80 years ago, travel abroad was a laborious trip by sea, with travel times measured in weeks or months. Now we can be in Fiji, Hawaii, Australia or Indonesia within half a day. All our domestic destinations are mostly within an hour’s flight from each one other. Many smaller towns now have busy domestic airports – such as, Whanganui, Kerikeri and Queenstown, etcetera.
As my kids have grown up, and flown the coup as it were, I find myself more and more heading to airport for pickups and drop offs. And this where I get to the point.
Coming from the lovely North Shore to go to the airport, has somehow become a lengthy process – effectively a two hour round trip when competing with heavy traffic. The journey to the airport is sometimes longer than the plane trip itself, we all know the stress of trying to get to the airport for check in, particularly during peak traffic times, and the dismay when we hit the approach to the motorway and see queues of cars.  It’s not the best way to start a holiday.
For most other New Zealand cities, much of their metro population is within half an hour of the airport – over the ditch, Sydney for example, has it’s CBD only 8km from its airport.
This is where I must mention Whenuapai and its consideration as a second airport for Auckland. Once upon a time Whenuapai was Auckland’s main airport - back in the days when TEAL was the proto Air New Zealand and the jet-age was burgeoning. Then Mangere took over in 1965 as Auckland’s main domestic and international airport.
A few years ago the notion of Whenuapai gained some traction as a second airport. Many of the councils within the Rodney district supported it. So did residents – in fact there was 77% for and 22% against in a 2006 poll. But when the Supercity amalgamation occurred the idea was scuttled. I think we missed the plane on this one.
In the 10 years since that poll, the North Shore has grown immensely. Not to mention the catchments in the North and West. There are now over 500,000 residents within a stone’s throw of Whenuapai and all the while we are currently adding 60,000 people a year to the overall population number.
I think we should be exploring the idea again. Unlike the suggestion of a rail link to the Mangere airport, the infrastructure of Whenuapai is already in place. Think of the savings in transport costs for North Shore residents and the convenience of its location. The fact we now have the upper harbour highway in place as an airport road link adds more gravitas to the idea.
One of the reasons initially that Whenuapai as a domestic airport didn’t fly, was the cost in moving the military operations to Ohakea. I don’t see why some of these operations could remain at Whenuapai and co-exist alongside a civil airport. Wellington Airport has an RNZAF presence, so does Glasgow Airport and so does Darwin.
I suspect in spite of such a simple solution to ease our city’s traffic and transport woes and make the North Shore an even more desirable place to live, that the voice of protest will be louder than the voice of reason. No doubt residents living close to Whenuapai will voice their opinion – which they have every right to. I understand that noise is an issue with residents who live next to airports. But there are ways to mitigate these frustrations. Restrictions on flight movements, use of modern quieter aircraft could overcome some of these frustrations. I bet if they were told that as a nearby resident, that after a 10 min taxi ride to a Whenuapai airport they could be, an hour later, sitting in a Gibbston Valley winery sipping a Pinot Noir and looking out upon the wonderful Queenstown scenery that living in close proximity to an airport wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
I also suspect that Auckland Airport would have something to say about the matter too. They are a billion dollar company. They may not like the competition. We’ve certainly seen this conflict with our ports. And as a major shareholder how would Auckland council approach this issue considering its’ vested (22% shareholding) interest? Objectively I hope.
With the upcoming local body elections I wonder if any of the candidates have considered this issue. Maybe we should be asking them where they stand. I urge you as North Shore residents to vote in councillors that will give back the North Shore some of its voice, which I feel has been quieter in recent years since the Super City merger.
Now that we have a Unitary Plan in place, let’s keep up with the growth with good infrastructure – transport of which is paramount. Let’s hold our councillors and planners to account on these issues so that Auckland does become one world’s most liveable cities in reality rather than existing as an over-used slogan.
On an end note, isn’t it great to see our Kiwi Athletes doing well in the Rio Olympics. At the time of writing we have just picked up a gold medal in the sailing. New Zealand has always been strong in this area and it’s good to see this carrying from one generation to the next. Good on you Burling and Tuke!
Well, I’m off the airport now – wish me luck.

By Simon Gundry

Channel Magazine: Issue 69 September 2016

Columnist articles by Simon Gundry