Council Short Sightedness

, posted: 10-Jul-2008 00:34

Henry Wigram was a real forward thinker.  He's the chap that not too long after Pearse (and the Wrights) were doing thier thing who figured out that New Zealand needed aviation, even if the government of the day didn't think so.

He took it upon himself to setup a flying school here in Christchurch on land at Sockburn, land that bears his name to this day.  That flying school became RNZAF Base Wigram when the government finally worked out that, yes, these flying contraptions might win a war.

Time passed on, so did Henry.  In 1995 the National government and the RNZAF in thier infinite wisdom decided that RNZAF Wigram was surplus to requirements, that having an Airforce base down here just wasn't making economic or operational sense.  So they upped stakes and moved out.

For those of you not familiar with Wigram, it's right on the doorstep of Christchurch.  Much closer to the city center than Harewood (Christchurch International).  With it's nice long airforce sealed runway, it seemed like this would have been a perfect GA and domestic airport.

And then Ngai Tahu came along.  You see, this is right about the time that Ngai Tahu were being shown around various properties that they could purchase as part of the then recent treaty settlement.  And they saw Wigram, and they saw how close it was to the city, and they saw houses, or rather, a whole lot of land that would be perfect for houses.

But the people of Christchurch were less than pleased with the idea of losing Wigram as an operational airfield, surveys and petitions abound, and out of that it was found that something like 65% of the population of Christchurch wanted Wigram flying.  So the Christchurch City Council came to an agreement with Ngai Tahu "you can buy this land, but we will lease sufficient land back from you as an airfield, 10 years with right of renewal", the council espoused this move as a wonderful idea, Ngai Tahu is happy, the people of christchurch are happy, the council is happy.

Over the next 10 years, Ngai Tahu slices and dices around the airfield, houses, industry, offices here and there, not to mention livestock.  The airfield kept operating, businesses like the Christchurch Flying School, Pioneer and latterly Southern DC3 setup shop at Wigram as a better, easier, cheaper location than Harewood -- not to mention many private operators.

That brings us to today, the 9th of July 2008 (ok it's the 10th now, but wasn't when I started this), Ngai Tahu annouced that Wigram is to be destroyed in 7 months.  That's it, finito, kaput, no more aviating, they want to build houses on all the land.  And the council?  Not a peep.

Harewood (Chch International) is getting busier, more and more movements every day, it's becoming less of a suitable place for private flying, flight training and small businesses as time goes on, you can't deny that, that's why Wigram WAS being used.  Where are they to go now, Rangiora and Ashburton are the only options, both of which are far from ideal due distance from the city alone.

At some point, a second domestic transport/general aviation airport has got to become necessary but building new airports in this day and age of resource consents is near impossible, and why wouldn't it be, who (aside we aviation nuts) would want to live next to an airport, you say "I'm going to build an airport here" and everybody within 20k's will put up thier hand and say no you're not. 

In Wigram we have a working airport, one that's there, is entrenched and has been for a VERY long time in fact it's a really important part of New Zealand history, nobody living around Wigram has any right to complain about noise or any such nonsense, the airfield was there before ANY of them without any question.  If it wasn't for Wigram, and the many excellent airforce pilots trained there, they might not BE living there.

In short, the Christchurch City Council and indeed Ngai Tahu are sufferng a serious case of short sightedness.  In 10 or 15 years, somebody is going to be really kicking themselves that they let Wigram go without a fight when they try building a new airport to take the heat off Harewood.

Other related posts:
So long old friend.
"Sky High" At Wigram
CEO of NZ Flying School (Wigram) standing for Electorate

Comment by stevonz, on 10-Jul-2008 14:54

Yep, sad day.  Born & bred in ChCh and even spent 10 years in the RNZAF... including the period Wigram was closed down.  A sad day then, and a sad day now.

Comment by Canterbury Heritage, on 10-Jul-2008 17:48

Blogged on Canterbury Heritage

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