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Byron Shire
May 6, 2021

Aerodrome development crashes and burns

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A controversial plan to build a retirement village on the site of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome has collapsed after the proponent, RSL LifeCare, withdrew from the project last week.

The proposal was approved by the Joint Regional Planning Panel in March last year despite concerns from residents that it was an ‘inappropriate and conflicting development’.

Also approved was a 24 unit housing development, which was mooted as an opportunity for people with small planes to have easy access to them. It too will presumably not go ahead.

The project faced concerted opposition from residents, the local aviation community and the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee itself but the ultimate reasons given by RSL LifeCare for pulling the plug were that Richmond Valley Council had failed to live up to its obligations under their agreement.

The letter, which has been seen by Echonetdaily, cited ‘continuing and ongoing delays by the council; concerns regarding the transparency of the revised council fee arrangements; probable loss of aged care bed licences due to further time delays; and uncertainty as to when development could actually commence on the site’.

RSL LifeCare said Richmond Valley Council was required to have registered a subdivision plan and undertaken a site audit by January this year – conditions it said were not met.

Council was also to have established a ‘fly neighbourly agreement’ and a noise management plan, as well as undertaking remediation at the site and obtaining EPA certification for the works.

The developer says it has been advised that none of these conditions had been met and the council requested a further two year extension. This, it said, could place its bed licences in jeopardy.

Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome president Dr Richard Gates said the group had ‘always supported a nursing home for Evans Head but not on the aerodrome as this was unsafe and bound to create a land use planning conflict.

‘The Office of Airspace Regulation refused to endorse a fly neighbourly agreement for the proposed development because existing residential properties were already too close,’ he said.

‘This should have sent a clear message to the proponent and council – the RSL LifeCare development would have been even closer. It confirmed what we had been saying for years: the development is too close to the airfield.

‘[Richmond Valley] Council needs to be made accountable for its appalling management of this matter because of the multimillion dollar waste of ratepayer money almost equivalent to a full year’s rates.

‘There should be an independent inquiry into the whole affair which includes the role state and federal politicians played, with particular attention to the role of the Joint Regional Planning Panel and the rules that govern the operation of the panel.

‘Questions also need to be asked about the role that Kristina Keneally, planning minister at the time, played in rezoning the aerodrome to residential and the advice she received about rezoning from her minions. And questions need to be asked about the legal advice council was receiving throughout the process.’

Local pilot Margaret Howes told Echonetdaily she was relieved the development would not go ahead but concerned that funding for restoration of the Bellman hangar on the aerodrome site would apparently not now proceed.

‘The restoration cost of the Bellman hangar was reliant upon using funds from the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Heritage Trust account. This hangar was to be ready to accept the F1-11 by August 2013. The RSL LifeCare was to put $250,000 into the Heritage Trust account, but hasn’t yet done so, and presumably never will now,’ she said.


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1 COMMENT

  1. As the President of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Heritage Aviation Association, EHMAHAA, I can assure all of our members (nearly 200) and the Evans Head community that the restoration of the Bellman Hangar is proceeding as planned. Our F-111 is due for delivery on the 05 Aug 2013. I would like to again publicly thank the Richmond Valley Council, Evans Community and our members for their continued support of this exciting project. Rod Kinnish 0411378998.

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