Survey: Strong opposition to Tarras Airport from Wānaka Community and businesses

(Wānaka, Thursday 14 September 2023) A survey of residents and businesses in the Upper Clutha released today has revealed strong opposition to the proposed international airport at Tarras. The survey was conducted before Christchurch Airport’s announcements about Tarras a fortnight ago, and reveals that concerns about the airport have intensified significantly over the last two years.

The survey, conducted by Wānaka Stakeholders Group, found that 82.7% of the 608 respondents were opposed to an airport at Tarras, up almost 10% on a similar survey conducted two years ago. Of those, nearly 70% were “thoroughly opposed”. It also revealed that 95.9% of respondents say that the Upper Clutha should or must be involved in the decision-making process for a new airport at Tarras, with 71% saying “must”.

WSG Chair Meg Taylor says that the results show a significant jump in opposition to and concern about Tarras from the community. “We last surveyed members over two years ago, and there has been further growth in concern since then,” she said. “We’ve seen significant increases in the proportion of community members opposed, as well as the demand for our community to be closely consulted and involved in decision making.”

“For example, two years ago, two thirds of respondents said we must be closely consulted. That has now increased to over 71%.”

She says that community members remained “very concerned” about the same issues as previously. “Those issues are climate change, overtourism, environmental impact and strain on infrastructure, with between 79 and 81% of respondents concerned about each issue.

She said it was “telling” that the survey results did not change significantly for those respondents who own and operate businesses, including tourism businesses. “Nearly a third of our respondents own or manage a business in Central Otago, and over 13% are tourism businesses. 

Survey results are in line with both Destination Queenstown and Lake Wanaka Tourism’s recent response to Tarras. “We agree with them that this is not just a Tarras issue but will impact the wider region, bringing visitors on a scale not seen before. And the Tarras 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.”

Meg reinforced that the issues people were concerned about with the potential development of Wānaka Airport apply equally to the international airport proposal for Tarras. 

“Our group remains focused on ensuring that development at Wānaka Airport is consistent with the community’s wishes and aspirations, and that issues such as overtourism, climate and environmental impact and strain on local infrastructure are front and centre.”

“Our focus on Wānaka Airport remains unchanged”, she states.. . “We are well aware that moves to develop the airport could be re-visited at any time and we’ll continue to ensure that the Upper Clutha community is leading the conversation, not excluded from it.”

“Nevertheless, this survey demonstrates that a major international jet airport a short distance further down the road is equally unpalatable to our community.” 

“This is not about NIMBYism,” she says, “it’s about ensuring that airport companies don’t make uncontested and poorly considered decisions about our region with irreversible and overwhelming consequences for the Upper Clutha and Central Otago.”


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