Public meetings about the proposed Tarras Airport — where tempers flare and voices rise — have been grounded by the project’s backer, which has labelled them as being ‘‘not especially productive’’.
At a Wanaka Chamber of Commerce event last week, Christchurch International Airport Ltd Central Otago airport project director Rhys Boswell said the company was reluctant to host a town hallstyle meeting with the public.
‘‘We made the decision early on after the first session that a town hall-style meeting is not especially productive.
‘‘We listened to people give us views on how they wanted to be engaged with on this project and it was not in a town hall environment.’’
When an audience member said there was in fact demand for such a meeting, Mr Boswell said he was happy to meet individual groups to hear their concerns in a respectful manner.
‘‘We’re not happy to engage in an environment where tempers flare, voices are raised.’’
He had spoken to attendees about the need to address the inevitable growth in demand for air travel in the region.
‘‘Queenstown has always understood that the capacity of Frankton was finite and would at some point be reached.’’
‘‘Doing the work to provide for necessary infrastructure you can anticipate 10 and 20 years down the track means that we need to be having the conversation and doing the analysis now,’’ Mr Boswell said.
While he acknowledged it was important to address the pressures placed on the region by the return of tourism, this had to be balanced with the benefits such demand brought to the region.
‘‘The level of service you enjoy in this part of the world far exceeds Oamaru, Timaru, Ashburton, but that only exists because of the visitor economy.’’
The project was now three years into its data-gathering phase, and Christchurch Airport would consider beginning the approvals process, ‘‘possibly as soon as the start of next year’’, he said.
‘‘There are very high bars, and rightly so, for any planning approval to be obtained for a new airport at Tarras.’’
One attendee pressed Mr Boswell on previous comments he had made about not funding roading infrastructure to the airport.
‘‘It’s not on us to provide that road network,’’ Mr Boswell said.
‘‘We’re providing infrastructure for a portion of the transport solution for this region.
‘‘Others are responsible for the roading component, others again for the rail component.’’
Another attendee questioned Christchurch Airport’s commitment to achieving a netzero carbon footprint by 2050, suggesting the company was inducing demand without the technology to achieve this sustainably.
Mr Boswell said while it was not his desire ‘‘to increase aviation activity’’, growing demand in the sector made it necessary for them to come up with solutions.
‘‘It’s people’s desire to move and do stuff, and move things, that drives the demand for transport.’’