Richmond Valley Council yesterday completed the long-expected sale of a large tract of Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome to the Airpark Consortium, led by ‘keen aviator’ Peter Lynch.
The council has not disclosed a price for the sale, which was confirmed by GM John Walker yesterday.
He told local media the sale came with conditions and the Airpark ‘would act as an economic and social stimulus not only for Evans Head, but for the entire Richmond Valley’.
He added the heritage value of the former WWII training ground ‘will not be compromised’.
‘Part of the sale process includes recognising the heritage agreement, making sure that money is invested in the museum, preserving many elements of the airport,’ he told ABC radio this morning.
The consortium recently scored a centrepiece display for its Airpark Heritage Centre in the form of a retired F-111.
The Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee (EHMAC) is supportive of aviation use of the iconic site. The veterans who served there have always wanted it kept as a ‘working airfield’, a ‘living memorial’ to their fallen comrades.
But the sale also paves the way for a second sale of a packet of land to RSL Lifecare for the construction of a retirement village, which was approved by the Joint Regional Planning Panel in March this year.
The second, much more controversial sale, is vociferously opposed by many members of the community.
The land was previously transferred from the federal government to the council with significant strings attached, some of which some fear have been cut in the rush to establish the retirement village.
Local aviation enthusiasts have said that building housing so close to the runway could cause serious problems with noise abatement and could ultimately spell the end of aviation at the aerodrome.
EHMAC president Richard Gates told Echonetdaily this morning, ‘our greatest concern is that the purchaser of the aerodrome has given in to conditions of sale that will compromise aviation function in the long term, for example acquiesced to conditions regarding noise to accommodate the inappropriately located RSL LifeCare proposal.’
A sticking point in the negotiations has been allowing RSL Lifecare to sell 24 additional blocks of land for private residences adjacent to the airport.
‘The Office of Airspace Regulation refused to approve a Fly Neighbourly Advice for the Aerodrome because residential areas were already too close. The community was never consulted about the noise mechanism Richmond Valley Council now has in place to look after the RSL LifeCare proposal, a proposal which is costing ratepayers many millions of dollars,’ Mr Gates told Echonetdaily.
‘We also have some concern about existing users and owners of hangars on the site. We hope the sale of the land will not lead to their being forced off. They must be accommodated in any sale deal and the airfield must remain open for public use.
‘It is disappointing that the conditions of the sale and the sale price have been kept from the public. This is after all public property and why shouldn’t ratepayers be entitled to know what price the aerodrome was sold for? he queried.
Greens MP David Shoebridge told the JRPP meeting in March, ‘if this development is approved, it is almost certain that pressure from future residents will see the council moving to restrict flights at the aerodrome, or even see it closed’.
‘The cost to local ratepayers of cleaning up contamination [at the site] is estimated to be over $4 million. This amounts to a multimillion-dollar gift to the developer,’ he told the panel.
A council watcher told Echonetdaily the cost to ratepayers could be as high as $12 to $15 million, including forgone income and subsidy for the land sale.