August 6, 2008

Businessman Offers Airport ‘Saviour’ Option

By BROWN, Giles

A Christchurch businessman is willing to spend thousands of dollars to fly Ngai Tahu and city council representatives to an airport that he says could be the "saviour" of the Wigram airfield.

Trevor Lord, 54, is so passionate about keeping Wigram for aviation that he has chartered an eight-seater Cessna Citation jet to fly Ngai Tahu Property Group general manager Tony Sewell and Mayor Bob Parker to Paraparaumu Airport near Wellington.

Paraparaumu is making land available for commercial use to generate the money it needs to remain open.

Wigram owner Ngai Tahu plans to close the airport in February to develop 2000 houses.

"I want them to change their plans and to put forward a similar business plan (to Paraparaumu's)," Lord said.

He has written to Parker and Sewell outlining his offer, as well as extending the invitation to Wigram MP Jim Anderton and council chief executive Tony Marryatt.

"I am investing a substantial amount myself to bring the parties together to have a discussion and take this venture along a different path," Lord said.

Lord, who owns four companies that operate throughout Australasia, is a pilot but said he had no personal interest in Wigram. "I am not representing any parties here. I am just in the fortunate position to be able to see a possibility and be able to facilitate it," he said.

If his plan went ahead, the group would fly to Paraparaumu for a tour.

Paraparaumu Airport chairman Noel Robinson said the airport would not have been able to survive if it had relied on landing fees alone.

Building houses would have made it impossible to continue as an airfield, he said.

"It's important for the community that every airport stays open. That's an underlying, non-negotiable fact," Robinson said.

"With Wigram, Ngai Tahu can achieve exactly what they want to do but on a more commercial model, where commercial activities are carried out which complement the airport."

At Paraparaumu, Robinson plans to encourage hotels, retailers and distribution companies to build on its margins.

He hoped a decision by the Kapiti Coast District Council to alter its district plan would mean the project could begin by Christmas.

"Our strength in New Zealand is our natural beauty, and tourism is going to be one of the most important aspects of our future. We need to have good transport systems in place for that," he said.

Sewell said he would consider the plan if he could see some "financial analysis" of the benefits.

"In that case, it might be worth looking at. I will read Mr Lord's letter when it comes," he said.

"One thing you would need for the scheme is people to invest in it. At the moment Ngai Tahu is not convinced the scheme would work.

"The only thing that will stop us going down the track we are on is if there is a better financial solution, and no-one has produced that to date."


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