Leading academics: “No to tarras”

Eleven of New Zealand’s leading academics have written an open letter to business leaders and politicians stating that the proposed new international airport in Central Otago “should not proceed”, as it runs against prevailing research. The letter, sent on Tuesday, has been signed by professors from Otago, Canterbury, Lincoln, Victoria, Massey and Auckland Universities. Signatories include Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond and Professor Shaun Hendy.

The respected researchers, with expertise in the fields of business, economics, climate science, sustainability, Māori and indigenous studies, tourism, the environment, agriculture, and policy studies, outline multiple reasons why the airport proposal should be shelved. These include the “significant environmental, social, cultural and economic as well as political and reputational consequences” of failing to reduce carbon emissions by building a new airport during a climate emergency. They also point to the need to move “away from the volume-based growth approach” to tourism which “underpins the airport proposal”, and highlight significant concern around the airline industry talking of achieving “zero carbon aviation” based on technologies which currently do not exist.

The letter also raises concerns about negative impacts on Central Otago’s environment, flora and fauna, strain on regional infrastructure, impact on local and regional communities, wider economic consequences, intergenerational impacts and the wellbeing of those living locally.

James Higham, Professor of Sustainable Tourism at the University of Otago, brought the group together, and says that he and his peers strongly oppose the airport proposal. “Given the available research and data – and there is plenty of it – it makes no sense whatsoever to build a new airport at Tarras – or anywhere else in New Zealand for that matter.” He says that to do so “would be wrong.”

The group has formed under the moniker of “Informed Leaders”, as they are encouraging decision-makers to factor in relevant research.. “Decisions to proceed with projects like this with the potential for significant, intergenerational impacts should not be made in isolation by individual companies”, he said. “The available research and data should be factored in, discussed openly with stakeholders and key communities.” He says that he and others are calling for a “national conversation” about new airports.

The letter was sent earlier in the week to the board of Christchurch Airport, the company behind the proposal to build an airport at Tarras. It was also sent to the airport company’s shareholders – Christchurch City Council and central government, as well as other key stakeholders including Christchurch Community Boards, the Central Otago District Council and the Otago Regional Council.

Professor Higham says that the group is now working on a curated index of existing, relevant research that should inform the wider conversation.

The letter, as well as details of the signatories, can be read at http://www.informedleaders.com