A developer that won a noise case against the country's biggest military airport says it doesn't want to hinder operations at Whenuapai.

But local residents have launched a petition backing the Defence Force and calling the situation "disgraceful".

The Environment Court on Friday released a ruling in favour of Neil Construction Ltd, declaring Auckland's Whenuapai airbase must comply with noise restrictions when it does late-night testing of aircraft engines.

It prompted Defence Minister Ron Mark to say property development was perhaps a "threat to our national security" and that there was no doubt the ruling could impact the military's use of the site.


But Neil Group chief executive Phil Ainsworth says the company – which plans to build 300 homes next to the base on land bought in 2013 – never wanted to see operations restricted and doesn't think the ruling will have that effect.

"The parties to the Environment Court hearing are well aware that noise from engine-testing can be mitigated, including by moving engine testing away from the airbase's periphery and closer to the centre of the base," he said.

"We recognise and value its contribution to defence, search and rescue, and for jobs and local business in the area, and agree with public sentiment in support of its continuing operations."

He said the company had also never complained about noise from the base, but wanted to challenge Auckland Council's position that engine testing was exempt from special noise regulations that apply to the site.

Defence Minister Ron Mark has pushed back against a suggestion engine testing at Whenuapai could be moved to another part of the base. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Defence Minister Ron Mark has pushed back against a suggestion engine testing at Whenuapai could be moved to another part of the base. Photo / Mark Mitchell

But Mark earlier rejected the call for the testing to be moved to another part of the base.

"To me, that makes the noise somebody else's problem and would impose significant cost on the taxpayer … I understand this would be in the millions of dollars," he said.

"There is also no guarantee the people in the new testing area would accept the change, potentially putting us back in the Environment Court."

The Defence Force is this week considering its legal options.


The Environment Court stopped short of halting the testing – saying the Defence Force had 20 days to lodge an appeal before the ruling came into force and could keep working while it was considered.

Outraged residents have now joined the fight, launching a petition calling for the ruling to be overturned.

It had picked up nearly 15,000 signatures on website Change.org by Tuesday morning.

"This is a disgraceful hijacking of the law to suit their own greedy purposes rather than supporting the main existing user of the area," Bruce Williams, who started the petition, said.

"Our community is proud to be home to the base and don't want to see the area ruined."

The airbase at Whenuapai was established before World War II and Mark has described the situation as "reverse nimbyism".

"It could put in jeopardy our ability to conduct search and rescue, and disaster relief operations outside of commercial office hours."

The decision also comes after outgoing Air New Zealand chief Christopher Luxon said the company was in the final stages of testing the viability of flying commercially from Whenuapai.

The company has declined to comment on the Environment Court ruling.