Shifting Northland's rescue helicopter base to Onerahi airport will be dramatic for some nearby residents, Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai says.
Her comments came at an extraordinary Whangārei District Council (WDC) council meeting yesterday where all councillors present voted to support Northland Emergency Services Trust (NEST)'s base shifting from Kensington to Onerahi.
Speaking in support of the shift, she said it would be dramatic for some residents but not so much for others. Shifting the helicopter base to the airport will see more than 1000 helicopter flights annually flying in and out of Onerahi.
Kensington residents have increasingly complained about growing noise issues at the current base.
Tony Collins, WDC manager district development, said NEST wanted confirmation of council support ahead of its option on a second, unnamed industrial alternative site expiring this month.
He said there had been CAA compliance issues around this site.
WDC will next sign a memorandum of understanding with NEST and work on a lease agreement ahead of the relocation before May 2023.
The trust's new helicopter base at Onerahi airport has been earmarked for disused council-owned buildings and a hangar off Handforth St, close to the existing main airport terminal's western entrance.
Cr Simon Reid said the council was in a challenging position.
"We're in a catch-22. We're damned if we do and damned if we don't," he said.
Reid said there would be community problems with noise wherever NEST nested. He said Onerahi was the best choice – short of shifting Whangārei Hospital into the country and having the helicopter base beside it.
"Everybody is affected by the helicopter in some way, shape or form, from lost sleep at night to being on the receiving end of it," Reid said.
Cr Vince Cocurullo said there had been a change in air travel in recent times. Shifting the helicopter base from Kensington to Onerahi was the logical and most practical choice for the district.
Cocurullo lived close to Whangārei Hospital and thought the helicopter being as close as possible to this facility was the most logical. However, there were no practical options for this.
Cr Nick Connop said shifting the current base would remove noise from around 4km of Kensington Park. He said Onerahi NEST helicopter training would be done in a remote forest.
A WDC airport noise committee would be set up, councillors decided.
Collins said the shift to Onerahi meant there would be aspects of Whangārei's District Plan to be dealt with.
He said communication and engagement with the Onerahi community would be critical to any shift.
"... the proposed move would require a careful and well-considered communication plan to engage with the local community to allay any concerns, along with mechanisms to consider noise-related complaints or concerns going forward," Collins said.
"The negative impact of transference of a noise issue away from one community to a similar impact on another should not be overlooked," he said.
"However, the presence of the airport and associated designation already provides for activities of this nature ... while the designation does provide for helicopters, they must comply with the relevant noise rules of the District Plan.
"NEST are confident that they can satisfy the requirements under the District Plan and it will be for them to demonstrate that this is the case prior to any lease agreement being settled," Collins said.
Cocurullo said councillors were trying to do the best thing for the district. They were getting the principle of relocation in place and Northland being looked after by an organisation that very much helped the region.