Weekly column by Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan
The Red Flag
Then raise the scarlet standard high
Beneath the folds we'll live and die
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer
We'll keep the red flag flying here.
It's been decades since I heard that rousing song of the proletariat or the words of the working class song Solidarity Forever for the Union Makes us Strong.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Both were sung with gusto at the funeral of the remarkable Don Polly. Of course, only in Paekākāriki can something like this only happen. St Peter's Hall on Saturday afternoon was packed as stories were told. Don, a socialist ideologue, edited the nuggety local Porirua community paper Te Aw-iti for a decade in the 80s. For another decade (2001-2011), he edited the equally robust community paper Paekakariki Xpressed. In the drawn-out days before he died he had mentioned awaiting the arrival of the "winged chariot" to take him away. An interesting wish for a Marxist ideologue given it was Karl Marx who said that "religion is the opium of the people".
Talking of winged chariots, Kāpiti's beloved airport is facing its own existential challenge.
Kapiti Coast Airport's new owner, NZPropCo (NZPC), is looking at closing the airport.
Back in August 10, the DomPost published National Party candidate Tim Costley's claim that the new owners intended to close the airport by early September. That same story quoted NZPC's response that no decision had been made but it was "reviewing all options". In my column following that claim I had juxtaposed NZPC's response to the fact that it had already put commercial properties on its airport business park for sale on Trade Me. This was in breach of the intent of Plan Change 73 negotiated through the Environment Court by previous airport owner Sir Noel Robinson. It underpinned the economic rationale that airports cannot be viable based on landing charges alone and required supporting commercial/industrial development. The question follows, how can one claim to explore all options when a key economic support for the airport was being hocked off? The intent of NZPC is clear and highlights the brutal fact that the airport is private property. It's not a public asset. Since 1995, when the Crown sold it into private hands, the economic viability of the airport has never been fully tested. I can only recall Sir Noel giving it a fair shot.
While it's true that our communities have a deep historical and socio-cultural connection to "our" airport we should also ask the question why a private owner should foot the cost of operating an airport to enable this community connection. Are our communities committed enough to use the local airport to travel to Auckland rather than Wellington Airport? It's true, however, that there has been community commitment for public support for the airport. NZPC is now pushing the envelope to test the economic viability of the airport. There is a need to respond to this challenge. I have asked the owners to lay out their economic rationale backed by the underpinning data for their conclusion that the airport is uneconomic. And provide an opportunity and time, for those who believe otherwise, to produce a counterfactual business case. This would then give credibility to the owner's own public claim of "reviewing all options". NZPC has told me twice that it is up for this to happen. I urge the intelligentsia advocating a sustainable future for the airport to rise to the occasion. The Kāpiti public connected to "our" airport need the support of their intelligentsia to meet the challenge posed by the owners.
The next question associated with the above is the underlying morality of land ownership. The mana whenua question. The land taken under the Public Works Act for defence purposes was not offered back to the original owners when it was sold in 1995. There is a deep seated hurt over the Crown's treatment of the original owners. Every subsequent resale of the land, with its quantum increase in land value, expanded this alienation of the land from the original owners. The tension between the property owners and the cultural owners of this same land has been caused by the Crown. There are Treaty claim recommendations still pending from the Waitangi Tribunal. In the 1999 airport land occupation there was a strategic alliance between the airport advocates and mana whenua. That same strategic alliance is evident again with mana whenua stating that in fighting for the return of the land they supported the community's desire for the continuation of a sustainable airport. NZPC has posed a challenge to this strategic alliance. It has correctly highlighted that the relationship is not between mana whenua and the airport but between mana whenua and their land. Given this challenge any proposed business case for an economically viable and sustainable airport must include a tangible economic advancement of mana whenua. For its part, NZPC, having recognised that the relationship of mana whenua is with its land, has a moral duty to give tangible economic shape to this relationship. The community also needs time for their intelligentsia to respond.