Teens tear into airport idea

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Have cause, will travel.

Perhaps inspired by globetrotting environmental activist Greta Thunberg, three teens from Dunedin travelled to Alexandra last week to label plans to build an international airport at Tarras as ‘‘evil’’.

The 16-year-olds, representing School Strike 4 Climate, spoke at the last full meeting of the Central Otago District Council for the year on December 9, before a presentation to the council from Christchurch International Airport Ltd (CIAL) executives.

In impassioned speeches, Logan Park High School pupils Sophie Davison and Liam Scaife and Kavanagh College pupil Hailey Xavier talked about the environmental ramifications of the proposed airport CIAL announced in July after buying a $45 million, 750ha chunk of Central Otago farmland at Tarras.

Sophie questioned the viability of the development, and said the projected growth in tourism that formed part of the business case for the airport no longer existed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hailey said as New Zealand had declared a climate emergency, the ‘‘dangers of it [the project] should be obvious’’.

Liam went a step further and called the planned airport ‘‘an act of evil’’.

‘‘Every member of this council must vote against this report.’’

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan thanked the teens for coming but asked deputy mayor Neil Gillespie to clarify the process.

‘‘At this stage there’s nothing for us to consider,’’ Cr Gillespie said.

‘‘It doesn’t tie us to any course of action at all.’’

Environmental Justice Otepoti member Fiona Clement cited Covid-19 as a reason the development should not go ahead.

‘‘Now you are looking to increase tourist capacity, airports are intended to cater to the needs of airlines and accommodating future demand based on numbers pre-Covid is unacceptable.

‘‘We are now operating in a different landscape and this type of expansion in this area is not the type of growth we need to be looking to.’’

Whether Covid-19 could be factored in to what was a plan with a lengthy timeframe was a matter of conjecture.

CIAL project director Michael Singleton said in terms of the project’s development, CIAL was at ‘‘base camp’’.

‘‘We are at the start of a long journey.’’

The ‘‘horizon’’ was a minimum of 10 years in the future, but could be 20 to 30 years away.
At this point, CIAL was at the ‘‘engagement stage’’ with the community, he said.

CIAL sustainability general manager Rhys Boswell said mitigating environmental impacts was ‘‘part of our DNA’’.

Advances in aviation technology meant electric, hydrogen-powered and other alternative energy aircraft would be a real possibility by the time the airport was operational, he said.

The council accepted the report.

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