First published on This Is Christchurch
Christchurch City Council has waded into the debate about Central Otago airports by letting its subsidiary company Christchurch International Airport Ltd buy up land at Tarras for a proposed replacement for Queenstown Airport. With an eye on the tourism market, and keen to assert itself as the dominant local government player in the South Island, CCC has rubberstamped the proposed development at Tarras. The issue has come to a head because of the failure of Queenstown Airport Corporation to advance its plans to redevelop their airport in Frankton or set up a new one at Wanaka or anywhere else nearby. Local opposition from residents both to increased tourism and to a new airport have seen these plans shelves. But what goes around comes around. Christchurch International Airport Ltd will experience the same problems if it tries to develop an airport at Tarras, and that is that it will be sunk by local opposition. People living in the area like their way of life. They want the benefits of development without the costs. The problem is their economy is largely based on highly unsustainable agricultural development and will have to diversify to survive, and tourism is an obvious target.
The issue highlights that a project as big as an international airport, wherever it may be or whoever may be running it, will never get off the ground without Government intervention. The current administration has declined to become involved, but if a future government chooses to get into the conversation, any of the various proposals which have been on the table for decades could gain traction. TIC believes that the airport development should remain under the control of Queenstown Airport Corporation as the benefits should flow into the region rather than into faraway Christchurch. The government could offer this development as par of a carrot and stick approach, forcing the retrenchment of farming based on unsustainable over- extraction of rivers and at the same time giving a big boost to tourism. A big win-win for Otago.