The Environment Court has granted Rotorua District Council (RDC) approval to proceed with airport developments which could see direct flights from Australia landing in Rotorua by mid-2009.
Mayor Kevin Winters announced the court’s determination today saying it is one of the most significant decisions in the modern history of Rotorua, and one that could change the future of the city in a very positive way.
“I’m over the moon about the Environment Court’s decision. We’ve all worked long and hard to reach this point because we believe it’s absolutely the right thing for the future of Rotorua. Direct air services from eastern seaboard Australian cities have the potential to give our economy the sort of boost we’ve not experienced before. The opportunities for Rotorua people are limited only by our imaginations.”
He said the process had been a long and complex one but it had been managed professionally and sensitively, and the council had given serious attention to the rights of those people potentially affected by the airport development.
“However the council’s decision to proceed with this development also reflects the support of the vast majority of Rotorua people, who want a trans-Tasman capable airport for our city. People have spoken emphatically about their aspirations for Rotorua and we are now at the point where we can get on and work towards making the community’s vision a reality.
“We’re grateful that so many people took the time to prepare and make submissions – both for and against the airport developments. In the end I think the court’s decision clearly reflects the will of Rotorua residents. It’s a big vote for economic progress,” said Mayor Winters.
RDC chief executive Peter Guerin said planning, design and preparation work will start almost immediately and physical construction work is likely to get underway mid-next year.
“Our engineers estimate the whole process to plan and complete the runway extensions will take around 18 months, meaning fully loaded flights from Australia could be landing and taking off at our airport as early as the middle of 2009.
“The Environment Court’s decision means our airport company, Rotorua Regional Airport Ltd, can get on with the job of serious negotiations with international carriers, aimed at attracting one or more airlines to operate regular scheduled services between Rotorua and Australia.
Mr Guerin said a significant amount of airport development work had already been undertaken to cater for larger jet aircraft services flying between Rotorua and the South Island. Much of this work has been undertaken with future trans-Tasman flights in mind, and stepping up a notch for international services would not be too onerous.
He said the council was determined that the new airport developments would be achievable without being a burden on ratepayers. Business plans for the airport show the costs of future development works to achieve trans-Tasman capability will be self-funding from airport operational revenue.
“Rotorua is in a unique position to boost tourism revenue, to host international conventions, to attract inwards investment and to give our international profile a shot in the arm. No other destination in the world has our unique package of cultural experiences, geothermal elements, and lake and rural landscapes.
“Our conference, events and tourism markets in particular are ready to step up to attract more international participants. We already have the venues with the likes of the Energy Events Centre, Convention Centre and International Stadium; we already have the accommodation and visitor infrastructure; and we already have the attractions and activities. Direct flights from overseas will put that final important piece of the puzzle in place.”
Mr Guerin said he looks forward to the day in the near future when overseas visitors can be out and about experiencing the wonders of Rotorua within an hour of arriving in New Zealand.
“Who wouldn’t want to fly direct to Rotorua and avoid the extra time, cost and hassles associated with arriving in the country via Auckland? Bring it on.”