The Joint Regional Planning Panel has approved a controversial $78 million nursing home development on the site of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome against strong opposition from aviation representatives and other affected community members.
The decision has been described as ‘a done deal’ by Dr Richard Gates, president of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee
The plan, previously approved by Richmond Valley Council, includes building the retirement village and nursing home at the end of the runway, on land adversely affected by years of aviation fuels and ongoing aircraft noise. The lack of an appropriate safety zone between the runway and potentially 500 retirement home residents was also raised.
The plan also allows for the development of 24 blocks of land for sale to the public.
Echonetdaily reader and former Ballina councillor Margaret Howes described the meeting as a ‘farce’.
‘Twelve people made deputations to the panel against the development, but their submissions fell on deaf ears. Only one spoke for the development, telling the panel that the objectors didn’t count as they were not locals,’ she said.
Ms Howes said the panel took a mere 10 minutes of deliberation before they handed down their decision
‘The JRPP chair wanted to remove all reference to noise from the restrictive covenant, but was persuaded to retain it by his panel members,’ she added.
Dr Gates said he regarded the development as ‘a trojan horse for a future residential development of the site. Next would be council reducing the size of the runway to cut back noise effects. That would reduce the size of aircraft that can use the field. Then traffic falls away. Then council says “few people are using it so we’ll just shut the runway down”. It’s death by a thousand cuts – classic textbook case material.’
He added that evidence was given by a former RAAF and Qantas pilot who had been a chief flying instructor with 13,000 hours of flying experience, who had once crashed a Mustang on takeoff through no fault of his own, and the plane skidded 200 metres.
‘If such an accident were to occur at Evans Head, with a retirement village 90 metres from the runway, there are no prizes for guessing what the result may be. If you have a village with 500 people in it you could end up with a real catastrophe.’
He called on federal transport minister Anthony Albanese to step in over the inappropriate development.
The federal government transferred the aerodrome and 200 others around the country to local councils in 1992 with stringent conditions.
‘The federal government has indicated that safety zones must be left around the ends of runways at aerodromes and this advice has clearly been ignored. Minister Albanese fails to enforce deeds over these types of airport developments. The minister needs to stop sitting on his hands and act,’ Dr Gates said.