Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Helicopter trust loses court case

Photo / Richard Robinson
Photo / Richard Robinson

A High Court judge has thrown out a bid by the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust to overturn a decision to halve the amount of public funding the emergency service receives.

Last month, the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board voted to cut $450,000 from its help for the trust next financial year. It had cut a similar amount last year.

The decision outraged the trust, which applied to the High Court at Auckland for a judicial review.

It wanted the decision set aside as "irrational and unreasonable".

A hearing was held last month, and Justice Susan Thomas, in a reserved decision released yesterday, dismissed the trust's application. She ruled the board's decision was "not substantively unfair or irrational".

In court, the trust had claimed that the board did not allocate it enough funding for the financial year, which it said was "inconsistent" with the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Act 2008 and was illegal and substantively unfair.

The trust's lawyer, Matthew Harris, said demand for the rescue helicopter was constantly increasing and cutting funding could harm the service the organisation was able to provide.

But Tom Weston, QC, for the board, told the court the trust was in a "sound" financial situation which had continued to improve over time despite the diminishing funding from the board, which had undertaken a "careful and considered analysis" of the trust's application for funding.

Justice Thomas said in her decision that "there was no actual evidence of the impact of the reduction in funding on its services".

She said the funding board had the right to conclude that $900,000 was adequate, stable and secure funding - and to have regard to rates increases when deciding on the use of ratepayers' money.

Last night, funding board chairman Vern Walsh welcomed her decision. "The judge recognised the combined helicopter trusts had substantial alternative funding and the funding board had acted fairly and rationally."

Earlier, helicopter trust chairman Murray Bolton told the Herald that the rescue service was not in jeopardy, but the cut would force a review of "how we could pare back the service".

Yesterday, a spokesman for the trust did not return calls.

Last month, he said the trust would sue the board as an entity and, if legally possible, as individuals.

- NZ Herald

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