Northland's emergency rescue helicopter base in Whangārei is being forced to move after growing noise complaints from neighbours.
"It's unbearable, a helicopter operation of this nature here in Kensington shouldn't be operating in a residential area," Roger de Bray, former Top Energy chief executive who now lives 100m from the Kensington helicopter base, said.
Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai said she was aware of increasing noise complaints about the helicopter operation, which would be moving out of the site as a result.
"The helicopters are like a freight train going through the house sometimes several times a night," de Bray said.
Northland Emergency Services Trust (NEST) responded to 1115 callouts last year – its busiest ever. There have been 300 flights to date this year.
"What are the future plans to deal with the increasing level of disturbance?," Allan Kerrisk, former New Zealand Fire Service operations manager for Northland and area commander for the Far North, and a Kensington resident, who lives about 750m from the base, said.
The move will mean an up to about $8 million new location rebuild – that Northlanders could be asked to pay towards - for the only rescue helicopter base north of Auckland - amid a shortage of suitable sites and increasingly vocal public demanding the set-up of any new facility goes through a publicly notified resource consent process where they get to have their say.
NEST has transported more than 21,000 patients since the operation began in 1988.
Whangārei District Council (WDC) chief executive Rob Forlong said in a March 23 letter to de Bray the base was to shift on or before its site lease expired on July 31, 2023.
NEST chief executive Craig Gibbons conceded the operation's noise was disturbing neighbours. The trust did not want to be doing this.
"Enough is enough. We have outgrown our own base and outstayed our welcome from the locals," Gibbons said.
Trish Cutforth, WDC Denby ward councillor said it was time the helicopter base moved.
"I think NEST needs to look for a more appropriate location. It's starting to outlive its social licence for the site," Cutforth said.
"People have given it a social licence but a tipping point's now been reached," Cutforth said.
That had been in the past three months when building flight numbers in the past few years had suddenly escalated.
"I'm wondering if that's because of the increasing workload of non-emergency work," Cutforth said.
She said her constituents had increasingly complained about the growing helicopter noise.
The trust runs three helicopters, worth more than $10 million, out of its 33-year-old Western Hills/State Highway 1 base on leased St John and WDC land. St John runs its ambulance service out of the same site.
Forlong in his letter to de Bray confirmed the base did not have a resource consent. It operated under WDC's prevailing District Plan.
De Bray took his helicopter concerns to an unscheduled, short-notice March 23 WDC Long Term Plan meeting at Whangārei's Quarry Gardens, attended by the mayor and Cutforth.
Mai told the meeting WDC had met NEST earlier that day. Forlong said later NEST would be leaving the site.
"As a result of that (NEST) meeting, I can confirm that NEST is looking to move its operation and intends to exit the site on or before the expiry of its lease on July 31, 2023," Forlong said.
Gibbons said the base would be shifted.
"I want to be out of Kensington Park, hopefully before the end of the year," Gibbons said.
He said NEST had acted responsibly with the base's noise management through noise abatement procedures and the international Fly Neighbourly programme. It also complied with CAA requirements. But there was always opportunity for improvement.
Gibbons was in Whangārei last week for a two-day investigation into further addressing Kensington base noise issues.
An interim improved noise mitigation management programme was needed before NEST moved out of Kensington, de Bray said.
Forlong said in his letter to de Bray NEST would be providing WDC with a document outlining new noise mitigation actions "in a few days" in the wake of the council's meeting with the trust.
Gibbons said flight numbers had increased significantly in the last three years in particular. The five-tonne Sikorskys were quite a loud helicopter.
"... NEST have acknowledged the noise complaints they have received and will be taking actions to minimise the noise where possible. NEST will be providing us with a document which sets out their noise mitigation procedures within the next few days." Forlong said.
The de Brays have just spent $4000 on new ceiling noise insulation in their bedroom and pending new soundproof window glass.
Roger's wife Ruth de Bray said the irregularity of the helicopters' 24/7 arrival and departure meant it was impossible to get used to the noise. Her blood pressure had risen and she now also regularly took sleeping pills to get some sleep during the night after noise and vibration waking her as helicopters flew overhead. About 30 per cent of NEST flights are at night.
The helicopter site has 35 people, including 16 pilots, 10 contracted St John paramedics including winch operators, flight paramedics and rescue swimmers and a five-person engineering team.
Tony Devanney, St John Northland district operations manager, said his organisation was supportive of NEST relocation plans.
"We are aware of NEST's plan to relocate and we are supportive. It will have no impact on our emergency ambulance response and we will continue to deliver the same level of patient care," Devanney said.
Gibbons said NEST had no expectation that St John also correspondingly moved its ambulance base from the site when the trust exited the location.
Kerrisk said NEST needed to better communicate with its neighbours.
Kerrisk and the de Brays both support the NEST emergency rescue helicopter service, but not its current base.