Thursday, February 29, 2024

John MacDonald: Christchurch Airport should pull the plug on the whole Tarras Project

Christchurch Airport is stopping any further work on the Tarras Airport project, the pipedream it’s had to build an airport 400 kilometres away in central Otago.

400 kilometres from the city it serves. And 400 kilometres from its majority owner - the Christchurch City Council. The council owns 75 percent. The Government owns 25 percent.

And it seems the project will only go further, if the airport company can get more people behind it and get more public and private money to pay for it.

Which is never going to happen. But that’s what it has told its parent company Christchurch City Holdings Limited which, in turn, told councillors about it last night.

But I think it should go the whole hog now, and pull the plug on it completely.

A few years back the airport company bought 750 hectares of land in the Tarras area but it wasn’t until media got a whiff of it that it announced - or was forced to announce - its plan to set-up another airport to service Queenstown and Wanaka.

The idea being that the Christchurch Airport company would get a slice of the action from that market. It also said it was doing it because it claimed that Queenstown and Wanaka airports are at capacity and so a third airport is needed in the area.

Not that the other airports agreed.

Queenstown Airport chief executive Glen Sowry says Christchurch Airport has been spending tens of millions of dollars pushing a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

What he’s getting at there, is the claim that Christchurch Airport has made all along, that Queenstown is running out of space, with no room to expand.

That’s an argument for the airports to have. Because, let’s be real, these are two businesses wanting greater market share.

But for me, it comes down to a couple of things.

For starters - here we are in Christchurch, with a council that says we’re in a climate emergency, but it has seemed quite happy for its airport company to spend a truckload of money on a new airport 400 kilometres away.

And the other reason why I’ve never been a supporter is that it’s an airport that the people living there don’t want. An airport that the local tourism sector down there doesn’t want because the area just can’t sustain massive increases in visitor numbers. And an airport that doesn’t even seem to be needed.

So why would you?

From the images I’ve seen, it would look like a giant Westfield Mall dumped on a lifestyle block. It would be large-scale, capable of handling widebody long-haul jets from Asia and beyond, night and day.

But, hallelujah, Christchurch Airport seems to be waking up to the fact that, while it might have the land, while it might have the big ideas, while it might have the bombastic confidence, there is one thing it doesn’t have. And without it - this thing goes nowhere.

When you’ve brassed-off the people living in Tarras and the tourism operators doing business down there - not to mention the other airports you’re apparently coming to the rescue of - you don't have social licence.

In its simplest form, social licence is public acceptance of a commercial activity. And, from what I can see, there is next-to-no public acceptance of what Christchurch Airport is proposing for Tarras.

And that is why this thing is coming to a halt. And that is why I think Christchurch Airport just needs to lick its wounds and, instead of all this nonsense it’s talking about taking time to build stakeholder alignment and find more money from the public and private sectors, it should be pulling the plug completely.

John MacDonald is the Canterbury Mornings host on Newstalk ZB Christchurch. This article was first published HERE

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