Tarras community divided over planned international airport

Peter Jolly has spent his entire life in Tarras and seen a lot of change in that time - not all of it good.


"We're a community in decline and we're a community, to be honest, that's struggling," he told RNZ.

"The school roll is just stagnant at 10 to 13. When I went to the Tarras School there was 80-plus kids there. It was a four-teacher school and a very vibrant school."

The school was not the only victim of decline, he said.

In his lifetime the small village had lost its rugby club, cricket club and a slew of other community and sporting organisations.

It was why he was keen to see Christchurch Airport's plan for an international airport on 750 hectares of farmland it had bought in the area.

"Tarras needs more people and to have more people in Tarras they need to have something to do," Jolly said.

"We need more young people in Tarras, not older people like me, but younger people and they have to have jobs. And I think before people jump up and down about the airport they should wait and see what it could possibly do for the Tarras community."

The proposal to build an international airport in the small Central Otago settlement had reopened the divide in the town.

Almost a decade ago a proposal for an irrigation scheme similarly divided the community.

Jolly was one of the masterminds behind that proposal.

Support for the idea was largely split between multi-generational farmers and those who had more recently arrived - and the airport debate was much the same, Jolly said.

Sustainable Tarras chairperson Chris Goddard said whether residents were born in Tarras or had moved there, their opinion was equally valid.

A survey taken by the group quite clearly showed the community had doubts about the airport proposal.

"Forty-one percent of the community gave us a reply and it was a very strong message that 83 percent of the respondents - the families around Tarras - thought that the Christchurch Airport project was a bad idea or a very bad idea," he said.

The survey also showed the entire community agreed on one thing - they wanted a vibrant future for the village.

But Goddard said he doubted an airport would provide that.

"If the airport follows the playbook that they follow in Christchurch, there will be no local residential development in Tarras or anywhere near it," he said.

"The families [of airport workers] would need to be in locations like Hāwea, locations like Alex[andra], Clyde, Cromwell and when you look at the housing prices those 6000, predominantly low-income, jobs the airport will bring - those families can't afford housing in the district whether it's in Tarras with a minimum of 20-hectare lots or whether it's in Lake Hāwea or Clyde or Cromwell or Alex[andra], where you can have smaller lots - they are priced out of low-income earners wages."

He also questioned whether Christchurch Airport's proposal could ever stack up in terms of sustainability, with the carbon footprint it would generate during construction alone.

But fourth-generation farmer Jonny Trevathan said he wanted to see more jobs and more possibilities for the future of the town.

In his lifetime the town's population had trebled, while the school roll is dwindled to a third of what it was when he went there.

There was Nimbyism at play when it came to opposition to the airport, he said.

"A lot of their points are about the ecosystem and they want to see it remain as it is," Trevathan said.

"Some of them haven't got very good memories. What we're standing on now is basically a road and that's what a lot of this area looked like, and they've come here and bulldozed all that, taken the native matagouri out in places and they've put vineyards in.

"They say 'That's the ecosystem now' outside their place, but their place doesn't count."

He agreed with Peter Jolly and wanted to see the details of Christchurch Airport's plan.

It was expected it would take until 2023 for any decision to be made on whether the airport company would press ahead.

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