14 Juni 2019
F-15SG aircraft (photo : Jaryd Stock)
The Government contemplated building a new air base to house a squadron of Singapore fighter jets in New Zealand, newly released documents show. However, worries about the impact on New Zealand’s own military ultimately killed off the plans for good.
In December, Defence Minister Ron Mark told Newsroom the Government had decided against establishing a permanent training base at Ohakea for one of Singapore’s F-15 fighter jet squadrons.
While the National government initiated discussions with Singapore in early 2017, Mark said the potential costs were too high to justify the project.
Now, Cabinet papers released to Newsroom and published by the Ministry of Defence have offered some insight into the lengths officials went to as the Government tried to see if it could make the plans work.
A December report from Mark and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said an official assessment of the proposal was “strongly in favour on foreign policy grounds”, given New Zealand’s shared strategic interests with Singapore and the likely benefits for the bilateral relationship.
However, the overall assessment was only marginally in favour, with some small long-term economic benefits for Manawatū but a number of negative environmental impacts.
An earlier, more detailed Cabinet report raised specific concerns about the impacts on community wellbeing of noise from the F-15s – one of the loudest aircraft in the world.
Acoustics experts had said at least 75 percent of Sanson properties, as well as the local school, would require acoustic insulation. NZ Defence Force (NZDF) personnel and their families who worked and lived at Ohakea would be in a noise zone where buildings were normally deemed uninhabitable – something that would require $24 million of noise insulation to partially mitigate.
There were also concerns about air and water pollution from extra fuel emissions and used munitions, while the discovery of toxic compounds from firefighting foam used at Ohakea had placed “a significant strain on NZDF’s long-standing relationship with the local community”.
“Although local mayors are still enthusiastic about the proposal, residents’ tolerance of local defence operations has diminished and the noise impact of the F-15s is expected to exacerbate this.”
Previous defence projects at Ohakea, such as the Project Takitini construction of helicopter hangars and support facilities, had not “notably altered the region’s economic fortunes” despite the short-term boost from construction work.
“While the initial cash injection looks lucrative, the benefits would not be enduring and may displace other construction activity.”
See full article Newsroom