Central Coast Council has again refused, for the fifth time, to put plans relevant to the Warnervale airport proposal on public exhibition and consultation.
This proposal has long been shrouded in secrecy and controversy, and Councillor, Greg Best, wants the Central Coast Aviation Hub Concept Plan to be the subject of an independent community survey, and Council to conduct a formal community consultation process.
The Council has so far not released a 2008 internal report which recommended closing the airport because of the cost, availability of other airports in close proximity and the loss of job opportunities.
Council has also not released an internal feasibility study from 2013, saying the airport would continue to be a liability for the Council, and industrial or related development would deliver nearly twice the cost benefit.
It was reported that expansion of the airport would negatively impact more than 7,000 homes in its direct flight path.
A 2017 concept plan predicted that developing the site as an industrial area could create between 700 and 950 jobs on site, and contribute to an increase in the regional economy of $290m.
Any expansion of the airport is subject to the Warnervale Airport Restrictions (WAR) Act 1996, which is reviewed every five years, and in 2018, the WAR Act was reaffirmed and further strengthened by the Planning Minister.
With that in mind, Council determined that there was little point in tying up such a strategic landholding (744ha) for something that would never happen, and in November, 2017, the newly amalgamated Central Coast Council rejected plans by the former Wyong Shire Council to upgrade the airfield, and that $6m be redirected to protect the Porters Creek Wetland as well as projects to boost employment and commercial prospects through manufacturing and aviation services on the airport lands.
Since then, the Wyong Employment Zone (WEZ) and Warnervale Business Park have been established.
Cr Best said none of those reports have been made public or been put to the proper community consultation process, and he vowed after the 2017 rejection of the concept plan, that he would force renewed voting on the plan by putting continual rescission motions to Council every three months, in an attempt to open the documents for public information and comment.
His fifth attempt at Council’s meeting on February 25 was again unsuccessful.
Mayor, Jane Smith, said there was no point putting documents on public exhibition for a proposal that Council has decided not to go ahead with.
“It is a legacy of the former Wyong Council, where it was shrouded in a lack of transparency and accountability, which prompted Council to call for an investigation into how it was handled at the time,” she said.
“It would be a huge commitment of Council funds and money which would be better spent on creating jobs sooner.
“One has to ask if an airport would even be a good use of that site.
“There is no sense in throwing money into creating an airport to compete with existing airports in Sydney and Newcastle,” the Mayor said.
Budgewoi Ward Councillor, Jillian Hogan, said there was no demonstrated need for an airport expansion at Warnervale.
“My reason for not supporting the airport was the environmental impact, including air pollution and the noise,” she said.
“The WAR Act serves to protect Porters Creek and it is opposed by residents, the State Government and Lake Macquarie Council.
“It (the plan) was brought to us (Central Coast Council) in an unsatisfactory manner, with no briefings or information, and it is just a waste of money to put it on public exhibition when the plan will never go ahead,” Cr Hogan said.
The 2017 Central Coast Aviation Hub Concept Plan is available on Council’s website.
However, Cr Best said that was not good enough and “we’re not serious about consulting if we are offending the intelligence of the public”.
“This is consultation arrogance on steroids,” he said.
“The reason I keep putting up this rescission motion is to shame this Council into the reality of its hypocrisy on consultation.”
He said Council was bending over backwards for community consultation about other matters such as climate change policy, but would not even let the airport plan see the light of day.
Long-time opponent of the airport, Laurie Eyes, said he obtained “secret industrial plans” under the Freedom of Information Act, and “these detailed plans that Council dare not let Councillors see, show what a boon this site could be for the Warnervale and Wyong area.
“There is clearly no justification for the airport proposal,” he said.
“It should come as no surprise that the airport site is set aside and planned for industrial development under the Wyong Employment Zone, that Planning NSW removed the Warnervale airport from the 2036 Regional Plan, and Planning Minister Roberts retained the Warnervale Airport Restrictions Act 1996 after a 14-month Council-requested review, including submissions opposing the Act from the Aero Club.
“Even Cr Best supported the sale of the site for industrial jobs in 2010, and resolved in 2003, as Mayor, to not proceed with a regional airport or to spend any money on Warnervale,” Eyes said.
Central Coast Council Ordinary Meeting, Feb 25
Media release, Feb 27
Media statement, Feb 26
Mayor, Jane Smith
Interview, Mar 4
Councillor, Greg Best
Interview, Mar 5
Councillor, Jillian Hogan
Sue Murray, Journalist