Local and international academics weigh in on controversial airport plans
A group of pre-eminent academics publicly opposed to plans for a new international airport in remote Central Otago has grown exponentially. In January, Informed Leaders published an open letter signed by 11 academics on the proposal , which they said was at odds with the climate emergency declared by Christchurch Airports owners, the city council and the Crown , as well as international climate commitments. The multidisciplinary group including business, economics, climate science, Maori and indigenous studies, tourism, environmental and agricultural experts outlined their opposition to the airport, and called for a pause on the proposal. Now, 66 more researchers, academics and associated professionals from New Zealand and around the world have signed on, again calling for the proposal to be paused while the latest research to is taken into account. READ MORE: * Academics urge Christchurch council to stop supporting Tarras airport 'vanity project' * Say no to planned Otago airport, academics urge * Local councils 'can't wash their hands' of what their companies do - expert * Tarras International Airport: The madness and genius of building it in the tiny Central Otago town Victoria University of Wellington environmental studies lecturer Dr Amanda Thomas said she signed on out of concern for the climate, and because of her familiarity with the international research. Other research has shown up to 90% of carbon offsets don't actually reduce carbon, so any discussion about building infrastructure that enables more carbon emissions has me really worried. While there were particular challenges to maintaining connectivity as an island nation, that doesn't justify bedding in heavily polluting infrastructure, she said. The next step for the group is to produce public resources summarising the international research on issues like climate change and sustainable aviation. We've seen time and time again airports in this country going ahead with expansion plans without engaging in an actual conversation with communities about whether it's needed in the first instance. The Christchurch City Council, through its asset management arm Christchurch City Holdings Ltd , owns a 75% share in Christchurch Airport, with the remaining shares owned by the Government. CCHL did not respond to requests for comment. Earlier this year, three of the letters original signatories told city councillors the plan was a vanity project that would damage Christchurchs economy. Victoria University of Wellington professor Ilan Noy warned the airport would be expensive for Christchurch ratepayers both in development and operation costs, and the likely diversion of tourists away from the city. He argued Queenstown, Dunedin and Invercargill airports were close by, centred around larger population centres, cheaper to run and operating under capacity. Plans for an airport at Tarras a town of about 200 residents some 400km from Christchurch predate the Covid-19 pandemic , but Christchurch Airport chief executive Malcolm Johns has previously said the pandemic doesn't change too much of this proposal, except the timeframes. Investigations dating back decades led Queenstown Airport to write off Tarras as a possible site due to weather, fog, location and cost, leaving many blindsided by Christchurch Airports 2020 announcement of the purchase of 750ha for $45m. In May 2021, the proposal was endorsed by a majority of Christchurch city councillors , who voted against an effort to register concerns about its cost and climate change impact. Last month, School Strike for Climate Change protesters made ending the proposal one of their key demands, but mayor Phil Mauger told the several hundred-strong crowd he was confident hydrogen technology could be far enough advanced by the time the airport was built to lessen its carbon impact. Tarras locals , landowners , Wanaka residents , climate activists , the regions other airport operators and mayors are amongst groups to have registered opposition. Christchurch Airport expects the consenting process to begin next year, and its latest newsletter reports the research phase is in full swing. In a statement, project director Michael Singleton said he agreed with Informed Leaders that the climate is changing, and we must all get in behind efforts to decarbonise. He rebutted calls for a pause, calling it shortsighted, and said New Zealand had clear planning frameworks and a rulebook for infrastructure proposals. New Zealand would remain uniquely reliant on aviation due to its location at the bottom of the world, across multiple islands and the lack of rail network, he said.