'Sigh of relief' as airport plan paused

Opponents of an ambitious airport proposal for the small town of Tarras are pleased that it appears to be grounded.

The proposal, which has been pursued by Christchurch International Airport Ltd (CIAL) for several years, seems to have been shelved for the moment after a changed outlook from the Christchurch City Council.

The council’s Christchurch City Holdings Ltd (CCHL) is the majority owner in CIAL.

Sustainable Tarras committee member Marilyn Duxson said the community was delighted the project had been paused.

"It always seemed to be a dubious proposition economically and environmentally.

"The community will be breathing a sigh of relief that this project is not likely to go ahead soon."

Marilyn Duxson
Marilyn Duxson
Although Sustainable Tarras was up against a big proponent of the project in CIAL, she had remained optimistic throughout the process, Dr Duxson said.

"I always felt that at its heart it was just too stupid to go ahead.

"I would like [CIAL] to make a decision not to just pause this project, but decide not to go ahead with this at all."

She expected CIAL would "sit on the land" it had bought for the project "until it became more valuable".

"Time will tell if this comes up again."

Queenstown Airport Corp chief executive Glen Sowry said "common sense had prevailed".

"Christchurch Airport plays an important role serving as the main gateway into the South Island with good long-haul international connectivity.

"Queenstown Airport is very clear about the role we play in providing excellent domestic and short-haul international connections to the East Coast of Australia.

"I believe that Christchurch and Queenstown airports’ respective strengths and market positions complement each other."

On Tuesday, CIAL chairwoman Sarah Ottrey and chief executive Justin Watson wrote a letter to CCHL and the council.

"Ōtautahi Christchurch is our engine room and operating our business to create value for Christchurch now and in the future is always our priority.

"We are also clear that the best way we can create the most value and maximise profitability in the immediate future is to focus on the visitor opportunities and growth that exist in Christchurch."

The site of the proposed Tarras airport looking towards Lake Dunstan bounded by State Highway 8 ...
The site of the proposed Tarras airport looking towards Lake Dunstan bounded by State Highway 8 (left) and State Highway 8A. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
CIAL had spent about $50 million on about 800ha of land for the Tarras project.

The problems of resilience, sustainable transport and infrastructure capacity for the South Island would remain, they said.

CCHL acting chief executive Paul Silk said all CCHL subsidiary companies were operating under tighter capital constraints, as the group committed to lifting performance, improving dividend flows to the Christchurch City Council and paying debt.

"We have been advised by the CIAL board that they have taken the decision to take further time to reflect on the status of this project, noting that the challenge of accommodating the future resilience, economic growth and infrastructure needs of this fast-growing region has not changed.

"We will continue to work alongside CIAL on all potential growth initiatives.

matthew.littlewood@odt.co.nz

 

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