The campaign for a second commercial airport for Auckland has been dealt a serious blow because the Defence Force says it is too early to debate the future of Whenuapai Airbase.

In response, Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey has hit back at the Government and the Defence Force, accusing them of sending mixed messages over whether the 311ha base could support a joint military and civilian operation.

The campaign by Waitakere City Council and private utility company Infratil stalled late last year when Cabinet refused to discuss disposal options, saying the Air Force would need the site until at least 2010.

After presenting a fresh proposal last month, the mayors of Waitakere, North Shore and Rodney met Defence Force officials last week hoping to begin negotiations.

But they left the meeting "bitterly disappointed" after Defence Force chief Air Marshall Bruce Ferguson said the Air Force would be using the site for another 8-10 years and would not share its facilities.

"We're not angry, we're just a bit stunned," Mr Harvey said. "We've just been dorked around."

Proponents say Whenuapai could host budget airlines and could reduce driving times for locals who otherwise had to travel to Auckland International Airport.

Mr Harvey said he had been told by the Government they could begin negotiations with the Air Force over moving a civilian operation in to Whenuapai gradually as the Air Force moved out. "But the Government then said to (the Air Force), 'You don't have to talk with them. You plan your departure your way and after 10 or 12 years, lock the door and then they can come in and clean the cobwebs off and start again.' It is just bloody nonsense."

Air Force public relations spokesman Squadron Leader Ric Cullinane denied the Defence Force had sent mixed messages, saying it had stuck to an "absolutely consistent policy". "There is no way we could meet our security obligations and have a civil operation operating alongside us within the facilities," he said.

Mr Harvey said the mayors would now take their complaint to Defence Minister Mark Burton and Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton.

- HERALD ON SUNDAY