Wānaka Stakeholders Group on Wednesday released survey results showing 83 percent of 608 respondents oppose plans for a new airport at Tarras.

That’s up about 10 percentage points on a similar survey two years ago.

Christchurch International Airport is investigating building a wide-body jet-capable facility near Tarras village on 800ha of farmland it bought three years ago.

It predicts demand will be sufficient to allow operating alongside Queenstown Airport, which is planning for annual capacity of 3.2 million passenger movements by 2032.

The Christchurch City Council and Crown-owned company predicts the Queenstown facility will be unable to meet demand from a surplus of a million passenger movements by 2030 and 2.7 million by 2040.

If the Tarras project proves feasible the would-be developer says it will lodge consent applications next year.

Stakeholders group chairperson Meg Taylor says along with the jump in opposition to to the plan is a community demand to be involved in decision-making.

Taylor says it is “telling” that a third of respondents own and operate businesses, 13 percent of which are in tourism.

The stakeholders group was initially formed to oppose plans for nearby Wānaka Airport to become jet-capable.

A bitter fight ensued involving airport majority-owners the Queenstown Lakes District Council and Queenstown Airport ending with a win for the community in the High Court.

Members were concerned about a range of issues including democratic process, climate change, overtourism and maintaining the character of the environment top of the list.

Now with 3500 members and continuing pressure from tourism, the focus is on both Wānaka Airport, where operations are again set for review, and the Tarras proposal.

Meg Taylor: “Not just a Tarras issue.” Photo: Supplied

Taylor says the latest survey results are in line with Destination Queenstown and Lake Wānaka Tourism’s recent response to the Tarras plan.

“We agree with them that this is not just a Tarras issue but will affect the wider region bringing visitors on a scale not seen before.”

The group believes the proposal is not aligned with the “quality over quantity” approach endorsed by the community in its destination-management plan.

“Our view is that managing tourism numbers is the key to maintaining the value of our destination both for residents and for visitor experience.”

Academics add voices

Meanwhile a group of academics will sit down with Christchurch city councillors this month to discuss their concerns about the proposal.

They represent a 79-member Informed Leaders group that is challenging claims by Christchurch International Airport primarily regarding environmental aspects of the proposal.

It will be group’s second presentation to councillors about the project.

In a strongly worded letter sent to Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, key government ministers, local government leaders and others, the group effectively accuses Christchurch International Airport of green-washing.

They refute the company’s assertion that the new airport would be a positive move for carbon-reduction as being “simply not true” and say claims it would support Central Otago’s aspirations and be better than alternative scenarios are unsubstantiated.

“The proposed airport creates significant and irreversible environmental, social and economic risk … In our view the significant financial risks alone associated with this project are enough that it should be shelved as those risks will ultimately fall on the people of New Zealand and specifically our children and grandchildren.”

Christchurch International Airport, which appears to be facing a growing wave of opposition to its proposal, has declined to say whether it will attend the Informed Leaders’ presentation.

The company told Newsroom there is a “significant” group of people who are curious about how the company plans to meet the needs of a fast-growing region and a group who are asking why the airport has not yet been built.

“Our work shows that within the next 20 to 30 years just as many people who use the region’s current airport will be unable to.

“Doing nothing cannot be an option. If demand is unmet, people will just seek out other ways to travel, including by road, placing greater strain on infrastructure and creating more emissions.

“Instead of waiting for a problem to materialise planning for this demand decades in advance means the right infrastructure can be built in the right place before it becomes an irreversible problem.”

Made with the support of the Public Interest Journalism Fund

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