People before planes

When you land at an international airport it’s as if you’re still in the one you left. What they also have in common is a building programme that’s been going on for decades with no end in sight. Airports are goldmines. Which is why Queenstown Airport Corporation has Wanaka in its sights and Auckland is eyeing up Whenuapai.

Residents near London’s Heathrow Airport know all about being eyed up. The good news for them is: “The number of properties requiring compulsory purchase has reduced by 200, while the revised scheme also avoids the need to redevelop the M4/M25 junction.”

The bad news is: “We recognise that people who live in or own property near Heathrow could be affected by expansion. To construct and operate an expanded Heathrow there will be some areas of land, including residential, commercial and agricultural properties, that we will need to acquire.”

Fortunately for Queenstown residents, the mountains are on their side, providing a barrier to major expansion. But all that means to airport empire builders is that they just have to fight harder to get what’s left. Queenstown Lakes District Mayor, Jim Bolt, former chief executive of Christchurch International Airport, is one of the enthusiasts. However, the expansion plan was rebuffed by over 90% of Queenstown residents. A figure difficult to ignore. Bugger! So, what about over the hill, Wanaka has a small airport and lots of room to expand.

The prospect of five million customers tends to glaze the eyes and fog the minds of chief executives. The cost of 400 million to turn Wanaka into an international airport did not phase them any more than 200 million dampened the eyes of the Whenuapai dreamers.

The only problem with the Wanaka deal was that hardly any of the residents wanted a bar of it. So the council-cum corporation had a secret meeting and decided to . . . Well, who knows? They’re not telling us. But the well-grounded suspicion is that dark muttering and cunning plans were discussed.

It has been suggested that they were trying to get the population of Upper Clutha declared insane. Well, why would any sane person reject the opportunity to enrich the area they live in? Incomprehensible!

But before being carted off to Central China to be re-educated, some cunningly insane residents organised the Wanaka Stakeholders Group, consisting of Wanaka, Luggate, Albert Town, Hawea Flat and Lake Hawea community associations. And what a formidable group it is. As daft as it  sounds to the airport corporation devotees, the community is not swayed by promises of a  licence to print money.

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Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.