Warnervale Airport Act decision a blow to Council

Ms Louise Greenaway, independent candidate for the Wyong Ward, near ongoing Council work at the Central Coast AirportArchive Image: Ms Louise Greenaway, independent candidate for the Wyong Ward, near ongoing Council work at the Central Coast Airport

The NSW Minister for Planning, Mr Anthony Roberts, has decided to keep the Warnervale Airport (Restrictions) Act in place.

Central Coast Council expressed its disappointment following the announcement, stating that the decision would impact on the Council’s masterplan for the Central Coast Airport. Independent candidate for the Wyong Ward, and long-term campaigner to keep the Act in place, Mr Laurie Eyes, said the Minister’s decision was a stunning victory for the community and a rebuke for Council. Mr Roberts announced his decision to keep the Warnervale Airport (Restrictions) Act on Friday, August 11. Mr Roberts said the current regulations restricting further development and expansion of the airport would remain.

After an extensive review by the Department of Planning and Environment, which included significant community and stakeholder consultation, Mr Roberts accepted recommendations to keep the Act as it currently stands. This means that any expansion sought by Central Coast Council, owner of the airport, will require ministerial consent. “We have made sure that everybody had a chance to have their say, council, community and other stakeholders, in regards to Central Coast Council’s request to repeal the Act,” Mr Roberts said.

“The Department ensured that all matters raised were adequately addressed before finalising the review. “Expanding the operations to create an aviation hub or regional airport is a big deal to local communities and not a decision that could ever be taken lightly. “Based on the recommendations by the Department, I have decided to leave the Act in place, meaning that any signifi cant expansion of the airport and its operations by the Council will still need ministerial consent. “I believe this remains the most appropriate way to currently regulate activities at the airport.”

Mr Roberts said the government would consider whether additional controls on future development at Warnervale Airport might be needed to ensure any further proposals were subject to community consultation, rigorous environmental assessment and determined by an appropriately impartial body. Central Coast Council Administrator, Mr Ian Reynolds, said Warnervale Airport, now Central Coast Airport, was the only airport managed by a Council in Australia that was subject to such restrictions, particularly relating to aircraft movements. Mr Reynolds said Council had been up front about its desire to develop the airport for general aviation and leaving the Act in place could impact on this possibility.

“The airport is a major asset for Council and the community, with the potential to create hundreds of jobs and opportunities for our growing community,” Mr Reynolds said. “We know this because we recently tested the market, with our Expression of Interest process to turn the airport into a general aviation hub, and the response was positive. “We are currently developing a masterplan out of this EOI process which was always going to be subject to rigorous community consultation and state government scrutiny. “This announcement has signifi cant potential to affect this process and our ability to promote employment on the Central Coast.”

The land was acquired by the former Wyong Council in July 2014 from Terrace Towers for a total of $17 million, made up of the site for a proposed regional airport worth $10 million and offset land worth $7 million. The resolution to purchase the land was moved by former independent Wyong Councillor and current independent candidate for Budgewoi Ward, Mr Greg Best. It was seconded by former Save Tuggerah Lakes Councillor, Mr Lloyd Taylor, who is currently standing as a Save Tuggerah Lakes candidate in The Entrance Ward. According to minutes from the Wyong Council meeting of June 25, 2014, the motion was carried on the casting vote of the former Mayor, Mr Doug Eaton, who is currently standing in the Wyong Ward as an independent candidate.

Central Coast Council’s Group Leader Assets, Infrastructure and Business, Mr Mike Dowling, was General Manager of Terrace Towers at the time Wyong Council acquired the land. The land had previously been purchased by Terrace Towers in 2005 for around $26 million. In October 2015, Wyong Council decided, based on discussions held in confidential meetings, not to go ahead with developing an airport at Kiar Ridge and, instead, to focus on the development of the existing Warnervale Airport into a general aviation hub. It subsequently put the land back on the market, but as of August 11, it had not been sold. Following the 2014 acquisition of the land by Wyong Council, it was revealed that no independent valuation had been sought by Council before it purchased the site. According to the NSW Valuer General, at the time of the acquisition, the land was valued at around $7.5 million. It is understood that to ensure ratepayers were able to recoup the whole cost of the land, independent Councillor, Mr Bob Graham, successfully moved in Council that the airport land (not including the offset land) could not be sold for “anything less than the purchase price”.

Mr Laurie Eyes, independent candidate for Wyong and longterm anti-airport activist, said “The Kiar land was purchased without any independent valuation and in the knowledge that the government valuation was less than half the price paid. “The new Central Coast Council should make it a priority to thoroughly investigate all aspects of the Kiar Airport debacle and take appropriate action against those responsible, to ensure that such an abuse of proper process never occurs again,” Mr Eyes said. The Kiar Ridge land was originally part of the Warnervale Employment Zone (WEZ), earmarked for job creation through industrial development. Shadow Minister for the Central Coast, Mr David Harris, said that prior to selling the land to Wyong Council, Terrace Towers had successfully negotiated with the then Labor State Government for the Kiar Ridge land to be separated from the rest of WEZ because it was ready to be marketed as the Warner Industrial Park.

Mr Harris said the Planning Department agreed and the necessary planning instruments were put in place so that the Warner Industrial Park could be developed and bring business and employment to the region. “Council put a condition on the land that the developer had to build the water pipe line because the land was not serviced,” Mr Harris said. “It would have cost millions of dollars to build the pipe line, which made the site totally unviable, and it is still not serviced,” he said.

Mr Reynolds said general aviation includes pilot training, corporate aviation, emergency services and search and rescue, charter, aerial work, survey and monitoring, private fl ying, commercial operators and tourism related charter operators. He said general aviation was a signifi cant industry in Australia, representing 65 percent of all aircraft hours, and there was a high demand for airside general leaseholds close to Sydney. “This is due to general aviation being squeezed out of the Sydney basin, so there are many operators looking for an alternative and the Central Coast is the perfect location,” Mr Reynolds said. “We are not talking major passenger movements here, we are talking about genuine opportunities for smaller operators and aviation manufacturing expertise to become a major industry for the Central Coast.”

Council will continue with the master planning process for the airport and is seeking an urgent meeting with the Minister for Planning to discuss the decision. Anti-regional airport campaigner, Mr Laurie Eyes, said the decision set in place a new direction for the Central Coast Council following the September 9 election, “a direction that considers the community fi rst”. For more than two decades, Mr Eyes and his wife Jo, with a devoted community group, have fought Council “to protect the amenity of the thousands of residents surrounding Warnervale Airport. “The Minister announced that the Warnervale Airport (Restrictions) Act would stay in place, resulting in the total defeat of Council’s attempts to have the Act repealed,” Mr Eyes said. “This means that the existing curfew and limit on aircraft fl ights remain in place and the residents’ lifestyles and property values are protected,” he said. “This is the fourth time in 21 years that Council has sought a larger airport, and the fourth time that their plans have been independently assessed and subsequently defeated by the community.

“Over $30million has been wasted by Council on their airport proposals in the past three years, while the community is crying out for better roads and essential services. “I call on Council to fi nally accept the failure of their airport plans and to cease all development activity at the airport site. “We should now embrace the long planned industrial development of the airport site with the resulting 626 jobs and $20 million windfall land sale for the community.” Former Wyong Mayor and independent candidate for the Wyong Ward, Mr Doug Eaton, said Mr Robert’s statement confirmed that Council could go ahead with expansion plans for the airport, they would simply require ministerial approval. “The Minster has laid out a runway for the airport expansion and the development of a Central Coast Regional Airport,” Mr Eaton said. “We are the eighth largest region in Australia and the only one in the top 50 without a regional airport,” he said. “The business case has been done that establishes the viability of a regional airport with fl ights to Melbourne and Brisbane at a minimum,” he said.

Source: Media release, Aug 11 Anthony Roberts, NSW Minister for Planning Media release, Aug 11 Central Coast Council media Media release, Aug 11 Laurie Eyes, independent candidate for Wyong Media statement, Aug 14 Doug Eaton, independent candidate for Wyong Jackie Pearson, journalist