Tarras locals say 'something not quite right' about plan to turn farmland into airport

Locals in a small Otago town say there are plenty of questions but very few answers when it comes to plans to turn farmland in the area into an international airport.

Late last month it was announced Christchurch Airport had bought a 750-hectare block of land near Tarras, with the plan being to build a 2.2 kilometre jet-capable runway.

The announcement took locals by surprise, and Scott Worthington, spokesperson for the Tarras Community Trust, says every time residents seek answers they end up with more questions.

Last week more than 100 locals attended an urgent community meeting to vent their frustration at the plans.

"It was a sheer surprise," Worthington told Magic Talk's Rural Today on Monday. 

"Our first port of call was obviously to call the meeting and simply ask questions, and the more questions you ask, unfortunately they don't lead to answers - they lead to just more questions."

Worthington says the trust is "still trying to get ourselves together and canvas everybody's views" on the situation. 

Christchurch International Airport bought the land for $45 million. It's currently still zoned as farmland and though no plan or budget has been given for the project, Christchurch International Airport chief executive Malcolm Jones has said construction of the airport could begin in as soon as five years.

Worthington says "there is something not quite right about the process". 

He said the buying of the land was essentially a "secret purchase" by two Crown entities.

"Tarras...is a national strategic asset, just like a shipping port is," he told Rural Today.

"You've just got to ask questions."

Worthington said he believes Tarras was chosen as a location for the proposed airport due to the fact it's relatively close to Queenstown and Wanaka and yet only has a small population to oppose the construction.

"Certainly you've got less chance of people objecting when you've got 200 people across a pretty large area."

The community meeting was also attended by Michael Singleton from Christchurch Airport who dispelled rumours the project was shovel-ready and said he wanted to build trust with local residents.