Tarras community meeting - "98% against" new airport
If Christchurch Airport managers were hoping for a smooth landing in Tarras on Wednesday evening they were in for a bumpy but civilised disappointment.
There was no shouting. No awkward grandstanding or fumbled, overly-emotional speechifying. Just a lot of very strong opinions that added up to a resounding rejection of the very concept of a new international airport next to this tiny Central Otago settlement.
One of the meeting organisers, local vineyard owner Dr Marilyn Duxson, when asked on the sentiment of the meeting as it closed said "I'd say 98% against - and the other 2% are sitting on the fence."
The comments and questions from the floor seemed to back up that assessment. Even though Christchurch Airport project manager Michael Singleton gave a calm and measured presentation, he was grilled from every angle.
Many of the questions focussed on exactly when the airport company was going to reveal its plans and consult with the community. Crux broke the story last Wednesday, July 22, when we confronted Christchurch International Airport Ltd (CIAL) with multiple accounts of land purchases in the district. CIAL then revealed that $45 million had been spent buying 750 hectares of land near Tarras for a new "world class, sustainable international airport."
Asked when CIAL was going to start consulting the Tarras community Mr Singleton answered "today - July 29th." He elaborated that CIAL would first tell landowners who the true buyer of the land was - and for what purpose - and then start speaking to the community - one by one "so that people could listen and understand our intentions" said Singleton.
All of the land had been purchased in great secrecy through a company called Huntingdon Trustees (2019) Ltd.
CIAL has been clear for the past 7 days that they wanted to avoid a community meeting, because of the group dynamics that often made it hard to win the hearts and minds of a small community opposed to such a big project.
But, under pressure, the airport company agreed to attend this Wednesday's meeting.
The Tarras Community Hall was packed with what seemed like every single member of the 231 population in attendance.
Over-tourism, the environment, climate change, road congestion, and a lack of consultation were just some of the reasons a variety of residents gave for opposing the airport. There was even a member of the Wanaka Stakeholders Group (WSG), Protect Wanaka, there to give tips on how to oppose airport projects. WSG has been a thorn in the side of the Queenstown Airport Corporation that has been trying unsuccessfully for two years to convince Wanaka residents to accept a second Southern Lakes airport.
"No new airports" seemed to be the inescapable conclusion from the Tarras meeting, in spite of the CIAL claim that they only wanted to talk and listen with actual construction many years into the future.
"We won't ride roughshod over the community and we are not trying to get this through as a shovel ready project" Michael Singleton told the Tarras residents. Asked if the CIAL shareholders (Christchurch City Council 75% and NZ Government 25%) had been fully informed of the Tarras plan, Mr Singleton said that expansion to a new site beyond Christchurch had been flagged in the latest CIAL Statement of Intent that had been seen by the shareholders but not published.
"Air New Zealand is on record as being in support of this location for a new airport" said Michael Singleton in answer to a question as to whether the national airline has been consulted. He added that a Ngai Tahu representative had been identified to help CIAL "open up a conversation" with Iwi over the project.
It was revealed that CODC Mayor Tim Cadogan had not been consulted and was told about the airport project while at a Grey Power meeting via a Zoom call on what sounds like a very busy July 22 as CIAL scrambled to tell as many officials as possible in a very short space of time.
Wine pioneer Robin Dicey from Bannockburn told the meeting "The elephant in the room is our quality of life. The roads will be a nightmare. Do we really want to go down the road of high volume, low value tourism? Queenstown would be saved, Tarras would be wrecked."
Perhaps the most powerful statement of the evening came from the famous Central Otago poet, Brian Turner. He simply read his very short, one sentence poem - Sky.
"If the sky knew half of what we were doing down here it would be stricken, inconsolable and we would have nothing but rain."