Tarras locals upset over proposed Central Otago airport

At the the foot of Lindas Pass, surrounded by conservation, sits the small farming settlement of Tarras but soon the picturesque Central Otago village could be home to a large new airport.

Christchurch Airport has released its new research on its controversial proposal to build a Tarras Aiport by 2050.

It said the new airport is needed as demand for flights to and from Central Otago is likely to far exceed the region's current capacity over the next 30 years. The proposed airport on an 800ha site could accommodate 3.7 million passenger movements, including international passengers, already destined for the area.

Two runway options are being considered by the airport. The preferred option would be to align the runway, which will stretch up to 2.6km, between Lindis Valley and Lake Dunstan Valley. 

Christchurch Airport said this option was safer and would have less noise impact on the communities in Central Otago.

If selected it will avoid the Wānaka and Lake Hāwea communities but have more of an impact on Tarras due to its closer proximity.

A concept image of the runway.
A concept image of the runway. Photo credit: Supplied

The news is upsetting to many locals.

Sustainable Tarras spokesperson Suze Keith said for three years the 300-odd residents of Tarras have been waiting to hear the details of the airport.

"The announcement of a runway is neither surprising nor very interesting because an airport in one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand is a disaster whatever way the runway lies," she told AM co-host Ryan Bridge.

"It's an area that's really treasured by New Zealanders generally… It's known for its golden tussocks, its unspoilt beauty, the spectacular dark sky. We are really surprised that anyone would want to build an airport there."

Christchurch Airport said the new airport would help bring in tourists as well as cater to the growing number of people wanting to visit the area but there are concerns on how the increased tourists will be catered for.

Stop Central Otago Airport Group said there are issues with infrastructure and lack of affordable housing in the region so piling more pressure on is not the solution.

"As a nation, we are trying to improve the quality of our tourism experience - so enabling millions more to visit is exactly the wrong focus," spokesperson Zella Downing said. 

"No amount of pretty pictures, video animations and unsubstantiated promises changes this. We don't want this airport. It's an intergenerational nightmare."

Keith said the airport is "killing the golden goose".

"Why are people coming to Central Otago, is it for airports and easy access to your rent-a-car facilities or is to enjoy the beautiful wide vistas of the place?"

A concept image of Tarras Airport.
A concept image of Tarras Airport. Photo credit: Supplied

But without an airport, Christchurch Airport said the shortage of air capacity will impact residents through reduced choice, longer journey times, increased costs, disconnection, economic loss and higher emissions as it will encourage inefficient travel patterns.

Chief strategy and stakeholder officer Michael Singleton said they had around 70 people drop in with queries and concerns on the first day the news was released.

"We had lots of conversations with people and spent the day listening and answering questions. Some of those are naturally challenging conversations but it's important people get the chance to be heard," Singleton said. "We'll take away what we heard and feed it into further work."