Runway report: our initial response to media

We’ve received plenty of media interview requests recently. But when the Wānaka App sent us some written questions today, we decided to answer with as much detail as possible. We thought we should share these with members of Stop Central Otago Airport. Our answers are below, for your information, with some small additions for clarity.

Why does your group (Stop Central Otago Airport (SCOA)) want to stop Tarras Airport going ahead?

There is a range of reasons why people don’t want this new airport. Environment is a huge concern for many: impact on the environment near the new airport site (Cromwell, Dunstan, Tarras and the Upper Clutha), but also the obvious and very significant carbon footprint of building a new airport, running it for 50, 75, 100 years or more, enabling huge numbers of additional flights to our region (they are talking about “demand” which they will create), and the massive resulting indirect carbon emissions from all of this activity. It’s hard to know where to start. Think for a moment just about all the fuel which is going to have to be trucked in, the water the airport will consume, the impact on local wildlife, just to name a few issues.

But it’s not just about the environment.  There are all the concerns people had about the expansion of Wanaka Airport – which you can just cut and paste for Tarras: for example strain on infrastructure, the impacts of mass tourism (when it returns, which CIAL and others are saying it will) and the likely impact on the communities more widely around the airport – including Hawea and Wanaka and the rest of Otago. We have no doubt that when we go back out to members of our group and ask them in more detail, there will be other concerns too, but these are the big ones for sure.

We should make one point very clear. QLDC Mayor (and Wānaka Airport champion) Mr Boult said in the media recently that “our community” doesn’t want wide body, international jets. He was, of course, talking about QLDC residents (those living in and around Wānaka and Queenstown). He made it sound like that’s why we don’t want an airport at Tarras. What the community has actually been saying ever since the Wanaka proposals came to light is that we don’t want any new airports, we don’t need more jets, and we don’t want Airport Companies (from Christchurch, Queenstown or anywhere else) making decisions about our future which are incompatible with what the community wants. It’s no different just because it’s in Tarras. When he makes these statements, he is not speaking for the community, he is speaking for himself.

None of us (living anywhere in affected communities, or further afield in NZ) was asked by CIAL whether we wanted this airport. The land was purchased by stealth – many of those who sold their farms are horrified to find out it wasn’t for agriculture as they were told at the time. Christchurch Airport say they are consulting, and even show it on their lovely graphic timeline, but they are not having meaningful, honest conversations. They have had some individual conversations with people around Tarras to downplay concerns about the size and scale of the airport. We know of a farmer who was told that the airport wouldn’t affect them, when clearly it will. CIAL held a couple of local community meetings in Tarras we think (one which the locals demanded), and those meetings didn’t go too well by all accounts. People certainly came away without answers they wanted and feeling that they were being fobbed off. But we have no doubt about the real intentions of Christchurch Airport.

What action is SCOA taking to demonstrate its opposition?

Right now, we are inviting people who are opposed to the proposals to join our group. We’re a grassroots organisation and we don’t yet have a formal structure other than a website and a joining list. We first want to understand the level of opposition, and then we’ll see who steps forward. But the fact that we are now at over 900 people without much effort speaks volumes. People are fed up with big business making these decisions over the top of us.

Right now, we’ve got a first real set of information from Christchurch Airport, and we’ll take time to look it over. They’ve had months and big budgets to prepare this and release their very professionally produced document. We’re not in a rush, but we will build opposition to this. We’re not lying down over this, and just because they’ve spent $45m on land doesn’t mean it’s going to happen or make it right.

If Christchurch Airport think they can airbrush this through with nice graphics and talk of “great opportunities” for the district, they don’t understand the community we have here, and they are wrong.

Any comment on the latest ‘assessment’ released by CIAL regarding runway alignment and length?

(You’ll find the assessment document from Christchurch Airport here).

Yes. Initial comments are that they’re clearly planning to build an airport which will need a lot of jets in and out every day to make it pay. The details they’ve just released, along with previous statements about how much they are going to spend, shows that they are thinking big. 

Whether the runway ends up aligning toward Hawea or not, this is a disaster for our communities. Cromwell is guaranteed to have jets flying at around only 1,200 meters over the town, probably day and night in the medium to long term. When locals finally understand this, it will be too late.  For those who live along the edge of Lake Dunstan, in Tarras, Queensberry or Luggate, this is really bad news. For those of us living a bit further away, we will still be impacted – see our answers above.

Glossy reports, no matter how beautifully designed the infographics are, don’t make this any more acceptable. It’s bad.