LOCAL NEWS & VIEWS

Flying high at ratepayer’s expense

In a recent meeting between Gary Chestnut from the Community Environment Network and Council Administrator Rik Hart, Mr Hart was asked to clarify “why the urgency to reach $60 million of asset sales was overridden by Mr. Persson’s resolution on April 13 – that Council authorise the Chief Executive Officer to explore inclusion of 4 and 10 Warren Road, Warnervale and 140 Sparks Road, Warnervale into the draft Airport Masterplan and to suspend the sales of these land parcels until the Airport Masterplan is finalised?”

 

So why aren’t these properties being sold? The sale would make up a significant portion of the required $60 million asset sales target.

10 June 2021

ALAN HAYES

 

WHILE Central Coast ratepayers brace for an ongoing slug in the hip pocket, and are continually reminded that the only way forward in solving Council’s financial crisis is for them to bear the burden, the public purse is still being plundered.

 

Certain Council staff remain hellbent on seeing the Warnervale Airport Masterplan move forward, yet have never produced real evidence to support their spurious claims. Council’s own consultants, Deloitte Access Economics, who provided feasibility reports in favour of industrial development, said that the development of the airport (as previously reported by the Grapevine) will not provide the 5000 jobs as claimed by Jamie Barclay, Unit Manager Economic Development and Property at Central Coast Council. According to Deloitte Access Economics the $274 million Mater Planned airport development would likely provide no more than 109 jobs. So why is Central Coast Council’s Unit Manager of Economic Development and Property Jamie Barclay claiming the airport will provide 5000 jobs?

 

SGS Economics was also commissioned by Council to provide a feasibility report of the development of Warnervale Airport and said that developed as an industrial precinct, the airport site would provide 626 direct industrial jobs. SGS further indicated that the airport site would provide 3,576 jobs with the food industry multiplier of 5, would provide at least $12 million in capital gain (2013 figure), would provide about $500,000 in rates per annum and would protect the environment and improve home values and amenity.

 

The sale of the airport land as an industrial park would not only see Council’s coffers flush with money it would be a boon for employment on the Central Coast.

 

Yet, despite overwhelming evidence that Warnervale is not viable as an airport, Council continues to rely on its spurious claims to justify wasting ratepayer’s money.

 

In a separate report on the 13 April 2021 Ordinary Council meeting it was said, “The development of Western Sydney Airport (Badgerys Creek) due to open in 2026 and its likely impact on Bankstown Airport (reduced or removed Sydney Basin training area) will make Central Coast Airport at Warnervale a very important asset for the Region that will increase economic, employment and tourism opportunities.”

 

The Grapevine understands that there has never been any conversation between the CEO of Sydney Metro Airports Mr Daniel Jarosch and Central Coast Council as to the fate of Bankstown Airport and its training area.

 

In response to Central Coast Council announcing its intention "to commence discussions and negotiations with aviation businesses to better utilise the Central Coast Airport", Mr Jarosch said, "I note that during preparation and consultation proceed (sic) for the recently approved Bankstown Airport Master Plan 2019 and Camden Airport Master Plan 2020, interviews were conducted with established general aviation businesses at both airports. Whilst aviation organisations operating at both airports, including flight training schools, were unequivocally concerned about the potential for adverse impacts of changes to airspace in the Sydney basin as a result of WASA, these organisations did not communicate an intention to cease operations at either of these airports. More recently, a number of flight training schools have either expanded their operations and/or expressed an intention to extend their sublease arrangements."

 

"I note that SMA continues to actively plan for the renewal and expansion of our general aviation facilities and operations at both Bankstown Airport and Camden Airport, and we will continue to advocate for the designation of flight corridors and airspace in support of our general aviation customers and community," he said.

 

In a shrinking general aviation industry, it would seem evident from the Sydney Metro Airports CEO's statements, there are no aviation businesses to discuss or negotiate with in relation to their relocation to Central Coast Warnervale Airport. The businesses at Bankstown have decided to stay at Bankstown.

 

The only way to attract business to Central Coast Council's airport would be to offer them a huge financial incentive using ratepayers’ funds to provide massive subsidies. A hard pill to swallow for ratepayers, expecting them to kick the fiscal can even further.

 

Offering subsidies to attract business to Warnervale Airport is a tactic that Council have tried before, subsequently turning into a huge 'Fail'.

 

With much fanfare and hoopla in 2016 an announcement was made, with then Premier Mike Baird in tow, that a ten year lease had been given to Amphibious Aerospace Industries (AAI) to use Warnervale Airport. The proposal had more legs than a centipede and was doomed to fail from the start, but this didn’t stop Council wasting ratepayers’ funds – it cost the community more than $8 million without producing a single job or benefit and AAI being paid $1.5 million in go-away money in 2018. No wonder the State Government’s public inquiry in Council’s finances only goes back to 2017 – there are too many skeletons still rattling around. Skeletons that the State Government doesn’t want dug up.

 

Back to the separate Council Report of 13 April Ordinary Meeting

 

It was also said in this report that “The CCAC (Central Coast Aero Club) is currently experiencing strong growth and demand for hangar space with the increased popularity of general and light aviation.”

 

This statement now raises an important and very puzzling question: Why is that Central Coast Council’s ‘Notes to the Financial Statement’ show that income from the Warnervale Airport landing fees has dropped from $67,000 in 2018 to $28,000 in 2020?

 

Central Coast Aero Club’s (CCAC) membership details from their 2016 financial statement show that in 2015 they had 211 flying members and 284 members in total. In 2016 there were 62 flying members, with 175 members in total. By 2020, the numbers had dropped to 128 flying members, now leaving 150 members in total. Reading the CCAC's current financial report, it would appear the viability of the club is in question with such a dramatic decline in membership over a five year period.

 

So, why are the ratepayers’ expected to subsidise a declining business? Why are ratepayers expected to continue to subsidise the airport folly, when the evidence supporting alternative development from Council’s own consultants is irrefutable.

 

State Government Concerns

 

In 1973 the State Planing Authority of NSW had reservations about the establishment of an aerodrome for light aircraft at the Warnervale site.

 

They said in a letter to Council, “Consideration has been given to this matter and the Authority has decided to raise objection to the construction of an airfield in this location for the reasons that: (a) the proposal may have an adverse effect on the strategic studies of the Wyong area; and (b) the likely effect of the proposal on the creek systems in the area cannot be determined at this stage.”

 

Regardless, Council continued with its plans and built the airfield, which to this this day is still classified for recreational flying only.

The aftermath of tree trimming by Central Coast Council in an environmentally sensitive area north of the Warnervale Airstrip. The trees were trimmed to allow night flying training, which has not been approved by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Warnervale Airfield is not approved by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for pilot training or night flying training, yet these activities continue to be carried out.

 

Recently, environmentally protected trees on the northern approach to the airstrip were lopped and butchered so as not to provide any hazard to the night flying and now stand as stark sentinels of the pandering to the whims of the privileged few.

 

So, the question, which must be asked: Why has a broke council made a $5 million payment from restricted funds for a business plan to prop up a declining aero club, and, which for the airport to try and succeed, would be dependent upon garnering business from Lake Macquarie, Cessnock or Maitland Airports.

 

Is it any wonder that the finances of the Central Coast are in such a parlous state! The ongoing Central Coast Warnervale Airport farce is a prime example of Council mismanagement and its failure to adhere to the sound advice of its own consultants.

Grapevine News Online

Central Coast NSW

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