Airport debate heats up; councillors weigh in [Wanaka Sun, 11/03/21]

Wānaka’s three local councillors have expressed a united view on the future of Wānaka Airport. Statements from Councillors Calum Macleod, Niamh Shaw and Quentin Smith sent to Wānaka Stakeholders Group (WSG) were made public yesterday.

The statements were made in response to WSG’s letter on behalf of almost 3,500 members to the Prime Minister, MPs and councillors from Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) and Christchurch District Council last month.

The recipients were asked to state their views about plans to build airports in light of climate emergency declarations, emissions targets, the impacts of Covid-19 and concerns about the impacts of tourism.

In two emails published by WSG yesterday, Macleod agreed that New Zealand did not need more jet capable airports.

“There is ample airport capacity in the South Island,” he said.

When asked about international visitor numbers he said: “More is not the answer” and pointed to the recommendations made in Simon Upton’s recent report on tourism.

“The discussion demands to be what is the most sustainable – in fact regenerative – way forward for us all.”

He added that “there is no reason why Wānaka Airport could not stay as it currently stands.”

 Shaw said: “At present, with current information and the global crisis presented by climate change, I cannot see any justification for building (or expanding) New Zealand’s airport infrastructure.”

Shaw said that so far she had seen “no compelling case put forward for the provision of additional airport infrastructure in New Zealand beyond response to demand – much of that driven by our tourism marketing which has, over the last ten years, favoured quantity over quality.” She noted that development appeared to be “dictated by airlines or the commercial interests of airport corporations.”

Smith said, “With regard [to] effects on our communities, infrastructure and the requirement to reduce emissions, it would be irresponsible to create additional jet capable in airports in New Zealand.” He said that “any additional aircraft movements would be completely contrary” to targets to reduce emissions. “We are going to have to come to terms with either a lesser number of flights or dramatically improved technology.”

WSG chair Michael Ross said that all three councillors had noted their public position against any further jet capability in Central Otago, let alone New Zealand. “Against the background of climate change and concerns about both our environment and the local community, it is a very positive step that our councillors have chosen to make these unequivocal statements.”

 “We hope that all other councillors and mayors of QLDC and Christchurch City Council will follow with acknowledgement of this position.” 

QLDC mayor Jim Boult commented: “The councillors are entitled to their personal views on the subject. In my view the discussion is currently off the table, given the current COVID-19 environment and complete absence of any international visitors for the foreseeable future. 

“I have been very clear in recent comments that long-term there is no doubt that our beautiful district will continue to be a very attractive place for people to visit, work and invest, and therefore potential airport development is a discussion for the future in the context of what it could offer for our residents and economy, balanced with any impact on the environment.”

When presented with the views of the three councillors, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said: “With both Wānaka and Tarras, it’s important that residents, businesses and community groups take every opportunity to discuss their concerns directly with airport officials. As the local MP, I will continue to support the communities involved as they work through the respective processes.”

Christchurch International Airport Ltd declined to comment on the matter saying it was inappropriate for it to comment on the councillors opinions.

Read edition 1017 of the Wānaka Sun here.

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