Central Coast Aero Club has been unwittingly caught in the middle of ongoing negotiations between the NSW Department of Environment and Planning and Central Coast Council over the perceived extension of the runway at Warnervale airport when vegetation was cleared by the former Wyong Council in 2015.
“The aero club is the only party losing out on all of this,” said club CEO, Andrew Smith.
An investigation by the department said council had to carry out remediation work on the cleared land around Porters Creek wetland and a report will go before the August 26 council meeting about cost for a consultant ecologist and remediation of the site.
Smith said council had taken this one step further by restricting trimming of vegetation on the northern treeline, which he claimed would render the landing strip unusable.
Councillors Greg Best and Bruce McLachlan are planning to take action at council’s August 12 meeting by calling on council to rescind its previous decision because of the “concern and outrage that has arisen from the lack of consultation”.
At its July 8 meeting, council decided to replant a previously cleared section around Porters Creek wetland and not allow mowing, slashing or trimming of vegetation within 100m, as well as any activity within 200m of the northern boundary of the airport and 200m of the southern end of the runway be referred to council for determination.
Instead, Crs Best and McLachlan want a “high-level” meeting between council staff and the aero club “to better understand the impacts and risks to all parties associated with action” regarding the wetland.
They want council to further investigate what impacts such revegetation might have on the value and useability of the adjoining council asset, the bush fire impacts, indicative costs of such a major replanting and that “council’s duty of care be legally assessed around knowingly establishing vegetation in such close proximity to a trainee flight corridor”.
Meanwhile, Mayor Jane Smith, assured the community there is no move from council to close Warnervale Airport and Central Coast Aero Club has a licence to use the airport land and facilities through to August 2021.
“It will continue to be managed by council in a safe manner and in accordance with relevant laws and requirements of the Civil Aviation Authority,” she said.
“Council staff have been asked to investigate some matters and provide a report in August.
“I understand the complexity and confidentiality related to the airport is frustrating for the community, however, council must work through proper process”.
The Mayor said council staff met with representatives of the aero club on July 9 and would continue to discuss with them matters relating to airport operations.
However, Aero Club CEO, Andrew Smith, said the meeting on July 9 was nothing to do with the club’s future, it was just a verbal notification that they (council) thought the WAR Act had been triggered and air traffic was likely to be restricted as a result.
“We have not been formally notified yet, as they are required to do under the current agreement with the club, so we are basically ignoring it,” he said.
Under the Warnervale Airport Restrictions Act 1996 (WAR Act), airport traffic is limited to 88 movements per day, once the Act has been “triggered”.
Wyong MP, David Harris, who is also the Patron of the Central Coast Youth Air League, said the WAR Act has been triggered, not because of the number of air traffic movements, but because of an “alleged unofficial extension of the runway”.
Harris said the NSW Department of Planning and Environment revealed in a 2016 letter that works carried out at the airport involved an extension and upgrade to the existing runway which included clearing native swamp vegetation within land zoned Environmental Conservation E2 and Porters Creek SEPP 14 wetland.
These “works have resulted in the runway being extended from 970m to 1196m and widening the runway,” the letter said.
“As a result of the failure to obtain development consent for the clearing of the vegetation, the department has issued a penalty notice for the breach under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act … the fine is $3,000”.
This refers to the section of land where previous clearing of vegetation has taken place and the subject of the council’s resolution at the July 8 meeting to remediate that portion of land.
Aero Club CEO, Andrew Smith, says that is a matter for council as it is council-owned land, but the anti-airport contingent in council used it as another hit at the airport.
“We still can’t get a meeting with council regarding our licence agreement, which expires in August 2021,” he said
“We were promised by the Mayor, via email, to have discussions by July/August last year, but repeated requests for that to happen have fallen on deaf ears,” he said.
“We have not heard anything substantial from council, other than a cut and paste response from the Mayor, which has been sent out to everyone, saying that there was support for the club.
“We will continue with our awareness campaign through a concerted email campaign to all levels of government and the local MPs,” Smith said.
He said the club had a membership of 250 which has been steadily increasing over the past few years.
“We are united as a membership, and as a Board, until we get something concrete as to our future from council in the way of agreements and an adjustment to the movement cap to allow us to continue unfettered,” he said.
“We want to make it clear to the public that we are not in favour of adjusting the WAR Act to allow large jet transport.
“We are against that, we only want to remain light aircraft and associated industries with the current boundaries.
“Unfortunately, there is a vocal minority working against us and one of them is a Central Coast Councillor,” he said.
“We have been blown away with support.
“The website petition already has 5,000 signatures and of the 300-odd comments on the site, not one was negative.”
Councillor Greg Best wants certainty for the club and its activities and will call on councillors to support his Notice of Motion to the August 12 meeting “to provide assurances of continued operation through reviewing the current Airport Lease Agreement with a view to fast-tracking its renewal”.
He said advice from the aero club that the WAR Act might have been triggered was seriously constraining the club’s activities and placing in doubt the operations of the Central Coast Youth Air League as well as disrupting the activities of various emergency services.
Cr Best said council does not have legislative jurisdiction to intervene but wants the Mayor to seek an urgent meeting with the relevant State Minister, comprising a delegation of representatives from Central Coast Aero Club, the Youth Air League, emergency services and senior council officers, with a view to working through the key issues.
“Not only is council unable to legislatively deal with the WAR Act, it would appear to be politically paralysed,” he said.
“I am simply seeking the Minister’s guidance and intervention to assist our community and, in tandem with this, council to show genuine intent while providing some certainty.
“This can simply be achieved through developing the lease agreement with the Aero Club,” he said.
Interview, Jul 29
Wyong MP, David Harris
Email, Jul 24
Interview, Jul 25
Media statement, Jul 26
Central Coast Councillor, Greg Best
Interview, Jul 29
Central Coast Aero Club CEO, Andrew Smith
Media release, Jul 23
Mayor Jane Smith
Journalist, Sue Murray