The country's largest airbase faces an uncertain future as it comes up against urban sprawl and a noise complaint from a developer, Defence Minister Ron Mark says.

The Government has announced the terms of a sweeping review of all Defence Force bases and land across the country, describing the estate as "run down and outdated".

The military is responsible for about 81,000 hectares, the third most of any Crown body. But much of its overall shape hasn't changed drastically since World War II and the NZDF is now looking to create a plan for what the layout of its operations should look like by 2070.

It could lead to proposals to move some of the current nine bases and 58 NZDF-managed sites and purchase or expand other ones.


While Cabinet won't be announcing what options it's exactly considering until September next year, Mark points to the Whenuapai Air Force base – in West Auckland – as an example of growing concern about a changing environment and a need for the NZDF to quickly adapt.

He says encroaching urban development around the once-remote base - the largest in the country - was now threatening the future of its operations.

"A property developer who has bought land right next to the base, which has been there for decades, is complaining that we run our engines at night or after dark," Mark told the Herald.

"This reverse nimbyism is having a massive impact on the ability of the Defence Force to operate today."

Defence Minister Ron Mark says the military's footprint across the country simply isn't right anymore and needs to be future-proofed. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Defence Minister Ron Mark says the military's footprint across the country simply isn't right anymore and needs to be future-proofed. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The review would look at whether it was necessary to move Whenuapai - and all other bases - build new facilities elsewhere or even whether one larger national super-base was needed, he said.

"The sooner we start that work the better. Because building new bases and relocating old bases doesn't come cheap."

Property developer Neil Construction Limited is listed as seeking a declaration in the Environment Court in a case against the Defence Minister and Auckland Council, with a hearing scheduled for next month.

The company did not reply to requests for comment on Thursday, but it's understood the claim relates to noise from engine testing at Whenuapai.


The Devonport Naval Base, meanwhile, needed to be reviewed against an increasing threat from climate change, Mark said.

The Defence Force last year confirmed an investigation into the cost of moving its $100 million-plus operations from the well-off North Shore suburb.

Mark said the Defence Force had been forced to tell Singapore it could not host a squadron of F-15 fighter jets because of a lack of proper airbases across the country, and had no room to weaponise New Zealand planes because houses were now being built too close to bases.

"What that has done is told us is that our footprint is not right," he said.

"We can't predict what the future is going to look like in 2040 or 2045, but no one can say that a future government won't want to re-weaponise."

Meanwhile, the Defence Force was also putting money into long-overdue repairs to existing facilities, Mark said.


The Government has increased the budget for regeneration work on its facilities until 2030 from $1.7 billion to $2.1 billion.

"Much of this defence infrastructure has fallen victim to deferred maintenance, budget cuts and shrinking government interest," Mark said.

National Party defence spokesperson Mark Mitchell said the Government was "kicking the can down the road" and that morale would fall if the work wasn't swift.

"What needs to be fixed or redeveloped is known in extremely granular detail already, so this review is nothing but a costly time-wasting exercise," he said.

"While this government has sat on its hands for the last 20 months, awaiting four reviews into defence policy, procurement and capabilities, our defence estate has languished."

The Defence Force last year confirmed it would be moving Royal New Zealand Air Force No 5 Squadron out of Whenuapai and to Ohakea as the Government replaced the ageing fleet of Orion aircraft with four Boeing P-8A Poseidon patrol planes.


Whenuapai's airstrip is not large enough to allow the planes to operate at full capacity.