Tarras airport plan on hold

Christchurch Airport is putting its controversial Tarras airport project on hold.

Christchurch city councillors were informed in an email from the council’s investment company Christchurch City Holdings Ltd.

Christchurch Airport chief executive Justin Watson informed CCHL about the decision to delay further action, saying more time was needed to assess the Central Otago project's impacts and to consult with local and national stakeholders.

The Christchurch Airport Board opted to slow the momentum on the project. 

The Tarras Airport runway would be between 2200m and 2600m long and capable of accommodating...
The Tarras Airport runway would be between 2200m and 2600m long and capable of accommodating flights to and from Australia, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. Image: Supplied
The airport has been investigating a potential new airport near Tarras, north of Cromwell and home to just a few hundred people, for several years and owns 750ha of land. 

At a meeting on Wednesday, the city council is due to discuss a letter of expectation to CCHL.

In a statement on Wednesday, CCHL said it did not expect significant amounts of capital to be committed to further investigations into the Tarras airport proposition in the short-term.

“In recent weeks, CCHL has actively engaged with the Board and Management of (Christchurch International Airport Ltd) CIAL on the Central Otago project,” acting chief executive Paul Silke said.

“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 support this decision.”

In August last year, Christchurch Airport unveiled a tranche of documents relating to the controversial proposal, saying almost 4 million passengers could be flying in and out by 2050. 

Among the details released was its preferred runway alignment for the project. This is northeast to the Lindis Valley and south to the Lake Dunstan Valley and it could see aircraft departing over Cromwell or through the Lindis Valley.

Christchurch Airport chief strategy and stakeholder officer Michael Singleton said in September the proposal could be environmentally sound and pointed to the airport's research, which showed an additional 500,000km would be travelled on the roads of the lower South Island every day by 2050 if people could not fly in and out of the Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes districts directly.

However, Singleton said the proposed airport was to serve the entire Central Otago region - not just Queenstown and Wānaka.

"We acknowledge the Queenstown area has current capacity constraints on infrastructure which is reflective of how, as a country, we haven't planned our infrastructure well for the future. This is at the heart of what our project is looking to overcome."

But the plan has been a source of consternation for many locals.  There are concerns about tourism, environmental impacts on the area around Tarras and fears a new airport was irresponsible in a climate crisis.

Last year, a survey by the Wānaka Stakeholders Group found 83% of their members had "strong opposition" to the airport, while community group Sustainable Tarras said they were prepared to challenge the project in the Environment Court if necessary.

- Additional reporting Wanaka Sun, RNZ