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May 6, 2021

Aircraft crash a ‘wake-up call’ on housing plan

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The remains of the Giselle aircraft which crash landed at Casino Aerodrome on Sunday. Photo supplied

Luis Feliu

A crash landing near Casino Aerodrome on Sunday has renewed calls for Richmond Valley Council (RVC) to scrap a controversial housing development planned for land near the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome.

The pilot in the Casino emergency narrowly avoided ploughing into a nearby retirement village, leading to campaigners fighting an ongoing battle against the proposed 70-lot housing estate at the Evans Head airfield to highlight the danger of mixing airfields and housing.

President of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome committee, Dr Richard Gates, said Sunday’s plane crash in Casino should be a wake-up call to Richmond Valley Council, which is backing the development of a so-called ‘residential airpark’ that also includes a motel, 14 commercial hangars and light industrial lots.

Dr Gates told Echonetdaily that ‘airfields were there first’ and councils had allowed housing and other developments to go ahead next to airfields, which was ‘putting people in harm’s way’.

He said the proposed development at Evans Head was ‘just not safe’ and federal transport minister Anthony Albanese should intervene to ensure councils did not approve such development near airfields.

But RVC’s general manager John Walker claimed the proposed Evans Head development was safe because it was far enough away from an airstrip designed mostly for recreational aviation use.

Earlier this year, RSL Lifecare pulled the plug on its proposed retirement-village development at the heritage-listed aerodrome, but a plan to continue with development there is in the pipeline.

Mr Walker told media that planning controls were in place for the land near the airstrip, which could be used for a retirement village, strata housing or residential blocks, and liaison with aviation experts had deemed it ‘okay’.

But Halden Boyd, a licensed pilot who uses the Evans Head airfield regularly, says the proposed development there is located ‘an incredibly perilous 90 metres from the active main runway, and within the noise footprint’.

Mr Boyd told NBN News it was ‘a shame’ that Sunday’s accident at Casino had highlighted the issue, which ‘certainly vindicates the concerns a majority of the public and the Australian aviation community have been voicing’.

But he said those concerns have been ‘falling on deaf ears with the “responsible authorities” for over 20 years’.

‘Since 1992 when the Commonwealth handed over aerodromes to local council ownership, many like Richmond Valley have eyed airports like Casino and the heritage listed Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome as real estate “cash cows”’, he told NBN.

‘This is despite Richmond Valley Council entering into legal and binding Deed of Agreements with the Australian government not to allow inappropriate development which is incompatible with the operation of the aerodromes handed to them in good faith.

‘The Commonwealth is just at fault because these concerns have been continually raised, and it has turned its back on its clear responsibility under Commonwealth law.’

Those comments were echoed by Dr Gates, who told Echonetdaily that the risk model used by the federal government for such development was flawed.

He said this ‘affordable risk model basically says “what can we afford to pay out in the event of human life being lost?”, in other words putting a capital bean counters’ value on human life, and they use that to guide their decision about where development can or cannot occur’.

Dr Gates said the government continued to use this risk model instead of the ‘the old-fashioned methodology of “what do we need to do in planning to minimise the chances of anything going wrong”, which then meant keeping airfields ‘well away from residential development’.

‘That’s pretty serious when you think about it, because it means developers can build residential stuff right up against the edge of an airstrip, provided they don’ think there is going to be too many people killed off and what they can afford to pay for their insurance if something does go wrong.

‘It will take a big crash near a major airport for this to really come to public prominence, and there’s a lot of concern from many in the aviation industry about this affordable risk model.’

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