Group prepares to fight Christchurch Airport plan in Environment Court

A group opposed to a proposed airport at Tarras says it is gearing up to fight the plan all the way to the courts.

Christchurch Airport this week unveiled more details for its controversial proposal to build an airport in the small Central Otago settlement, which was home to just a few hundred people.

Its preferred runway alignment would see flights departing over Cromwell or through the Lindis Valley. With the runway between 2.2km and 2.6km-long, it would be the third longest in Aotearoa and capable of flights to and from Australia, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia.

The idea was premised on massive growth in tourism and Christchurch Airport believed the Central Otago airport would be accommodating 3.7 million passengers every year just a couple of decades after being built.

Sustainable Tarras chairperson Marilyn Duxson said the group was willing to fight the proposal all the way to the Environment Court if necessary.

“We’re definitely gearing up for that fight,” she said.

“We’ve been steeling ourselves for it ever since they announced the airport. We’re willing to fight it every inch of the way and we just hope the people of New Zealand, and particularly the people of Central Otago, will help us keep this behemoth out of our beautiful place.”

The runway would be between 2200 metres and 2600 metres-long and capable of accommodating flights...
Image: supplied
The details released by Christchurch Airport yesterday mostly confirmed what Sustainable Tarras had long suspected, but they also showed the airport was out of touch, Dr Duxson said.

“It confirms it’s about increasing aviation at a time of climate emergency - just the last thing we need at this time,” she said.

“These guys just do not get [it]. This is not what we should be doing for our planet Earth at this crucial time - and I mean crucial time, from what we’re seeing around our own country in the last 12 months.

“This needs to be a national conversation, not a decision made by a company whose only reason for existence is to make money from aviation.”

Christchurch Airport chief strategy and stakeholder officer Michael Singleton said the proposal could be environmentally sound and pointed to the airport’s research, which showed an additional 500,000 km 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, he conceded Christchurch Airport was ultimately not making the investment on environmental grounds, but to return a profit.

Singleton said he expected some level of opposition to the proposal.

“You have to be realistic and say there’s going to be a level of opposition that’s going to travel with this all the way through its process. And that’s been the case since day one and that’s the case with every piece of large infrastructure that New Zealand’s tried to build.”

But Duxson and Sustainable Tarras were not alone in their opposition.

During the drop-in session Christchurch Airport hosted in Tarras yesterday, there were plenty of concerns among a varied and broad cross-section of the community.

A concept image of the terminal at the proposed Tarras Airport. Photo: Supplied
A concept image of the terminal at the proposed Tarras Airport. Photo: Supplied
One resident described what he had seen as “more PR bulls...”.

“It’s more of what we’ve seen at previous meetings. They haven’t addressed any of the issues as far as I’m concerned,” the man, who did not wish to be identified, said.

Other residents raised concerns about the impact on their quality of living, the inability of the town’s infrastructure to cope with the number of visitors brought by the airport, the environment, over-tourism, and one was concerned about where workers would live as the area grappled with a housing affordability crisis.

But some - certainly a smaller number - were in support of the proposal and the growth it could bring to the area.

Christchurch Airport readily admitted it had spent about $50 million buying the 800 hectares of farmland in Tarras and millions more on the proposal to date.

Singleton said it was far from a fait accompli that the proposal would progress to consent, though they hoped to make that call within 12 months.

By Tim Brown