Three leading New Zealand professors briefed Christchurch City Councillors at the full council meeting this morning, advising that they should heed the “significant body of evidence” which confirms that building a new international airport at Tarras is a “very bad idea.” The main issues raised included serious economic impact for Christchurch ratepayers, negative climate impacts, serious concerns about technologies and making the best decisions for Christchurch and it’s ratepayers into the future.

Distinguished Professor James Higham from the University of Otago noted that “the technical challenges in decarbonising aviation are enormous”, and that current research and science indicates that solutions are a long way off. Noting the current extreme weather hitting the North Island, he said the challenge of radically reducing aviation emissions is “insurmountable without demand management”. Referring to Christchurch Airport’s plans he said “there is no scope for aviation technology optimism that underpins the Tarras Airport proposal.”

Professor Ilan Noy spoke in his role as the Chair in the Economics of Disasters and Climate Change at Victoria University of Wellington. Noting that the new airport will hit Christchurch ratepayers hard whether it succeeds or fails, and that the current post-earthquake construction boom is coming to an end, he cautioned Councillors against “crippling the economy of Christchurch for the foreseeable future.” He added that Christchurch Airport “is not the Otago Economic Development Agency and I see very little reason why the ratepayers of Christchurch would want to undertake a risky development project for Otago.”

Christchurch based Professor Bronwyn Hayward is a Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Canterbury congratulated the Mayor and Council on various statements around climate change, strategic thinking, performance and values such as accountability. However, she noted that the airport proposal could become unpopular and polarising, as ratepayers want climate leadership. “They don’t want what they will increasingly perceive as a vanity project.” She noted that there were already anecdotal concerns about the lack of transparency in the sale of land, raising wider questions for the council and its values of integrity. She urged councillors to “put your money where your values are” and “please rethink your decision.”

The three speakers were part of Informed Leaders, the group of 11 professors who wrote an open letter last month about significant concerns around the airport proposal. The group has since swiftly gathered support with researchers and academics, now numbering 45 in support, and growing.

They announced that they will publish a full index of independent New Zealand based and international research, to help decision makers to be informed around aviation, tourism, airports and related issues. The index, which will comprise research which has been rigorously peer reviewed before publication, will be shared with all Christchurch City councillors as soon as it is compiled. 

Professor Higham noted “historically there has been low awareness of this substantial body of very clear research, so our aim is to ensure that decision makers are very aware of what it says.” He told councillors that 

In addressing councillors, he concluded: “The responsibility you bear around Christchurch Airport’s plans – directly or indirectly – is significant. Please be an informed leader as you guide the airport company via the Statement of Expectations and associated mechanisms. These decisions affect all New Zealanders now, and for generations to come.”


A full script of the presentations can be found by clicking the link here. You can also watch the submissions made by the professors during the meeting at the meeting video here.