SAINT JOHN – PlanSJ, Saint John’s community exercise to produce a new Municipal Plan, is coming under criticism from the region’s airport for being ‘unnecessarily restrictive’ and threatening the airport’s long term viability. To survive, the airport hopes to diversify its revenue sources by also becoming an industrial park, and fears that PlanSJ may prevent such development. Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase sounded the alarm bell by suggesting the airport may close in five years if action isn’t taken.
The presentation to Common Council on Monday is available here [PDF], page 185.
The airport’s representative, Bernard Leblanc, has been asking for a change in language in Saint John’s Municipal Plan to allow (encourage) non-air-transport use of airport lands. But he ignores the fact that the airport lands are federal and don’t fall under the governance of the Municipal Plan regardless of the language in that plan.
The only motivation I can imagine for the airport to request a designation under PlanSJ is the hope that the City will be obligated at a later date by its own plan to run municipal services out to the airport, which is only one of many things that might need to happen to enable the kinds of development Leblanc desires. (This idea is even cited in the airport’s own draft land-use plan from last year.) I’m not against the airport getting municipal services, I’m just against Saint John taxpayers being the only ones paying for it.
Claims that the airport’s input has been ignored by PlanSJ are unjustified. I know that staff have listened to Leblanc’s comments. We on the PlanSJ Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) have listened to him. He’s been asked repeatedly for information that would explain the airport’s paradoxical position and clarify what is being asked for (even once by me, in person) and has failed to do so. The airport has failed to provide any sort of business plan or strategic vision that would allow a cost-effectiveness analysis to support either changes to the plan or potential municipal investments in the airport. And Leblanc simply falls back to the same fuzzy talking points we’ve been hearing for the last year.
Making unreasonable requests of Saint John taxpayers is, strictly speaking, ‘providing input’; that input isn’t being ignored, but it is being dispositioned until the airport can provide the kinds of information needed to find a real solution that involves all the stakeholders in the airport’s success.
As an individual CAC member I feel the position taken by PlanSJ regarding the airport is completely appropriate. As a taxpayer, I would have been livid had a commitment been made by the City – through PlanSJ – to provide services to the airport unless it was part of a larger regional investment in the airport.
As a citizen and businessperson who relies on air transport, I want the airport to pull its thumb out, develop a realistic business plan to ensure sustainability, and start lobbying heavily all levels of government and all municipalities in its catchment area to obtain the support it needs.
David Drinnan is a member of PlanSJ’s Citizen Advisory Committee. His comments here are his alone, and are not intended to represent the Citizen Advisory Committee.
Photo from Your Saint John Airport.
Editor’s note: Earlier this year, the Airport was left empty-handed when the federal government doled out to upgrade the province’s two other International airports, Fredericton and Greater Moncton.