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Byron Shire
February 27, 2021

Housing near airfields a lethal mix

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Dr Richard Gates, Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee

I would like to make it clear that my committee is not, in principle, opposed to the development of airparks on aerodromes.

It is a successful model used around the world and the folks who build on airfields are aviation enthusiasts who accept the risk of living on an airfield and the associated aircraft noise.

It’s the proximity to the airfield for their aircraft and the thrum of aircraft engines which attracts them to such developments. Not everyone’s cup of tea but then the world is not all the same.

In our view such developments are in keeping with what airfields are all about and are appropriate for airfields such as Evans Head.

On the other hand, residential developments such as retirement villages right near the main runway are not a good idea.

Not only do they put very vulnerable older residents in harm’s way but they set up a land use planning conflict which through ‘nuisance law’ inevitably leads to the closure of airfields because of noise complaint.

In the Evans Head case, the risk assessment done for the now defunct retirement village by Richmond Valley Council was, in our view, nothing short of a joke and begged the question ‘what expertise did council have to make such an assessment’?

The Joint Regional Planning Panel which approved the development depended on the report prepared by council for its decision and failed to question council’s competence to make a risk analysis.

But more than that, it attempted to dump a caveat over the land which took away the residents’ right to complain about aircraft noise without, it would seem, paying any attention to what the Heritage Council said which was that if residents signed up to live so close to the runway they would have to accept that aircraft noise was part of living there and they would forfeit any right to complain because they had made that choice. The Heritage Council’s argument was that if the right to complain about noise was there it wouldn’t be long before there would be complaint and the airfield compromised.

In their view, aviation came first and was not to be sacrificed. Aviation was a major feature of its heritage ‘significance’.

It seemed to us that the Heritage Council well understood that the retirement village was a Trojan horse for residential development, a textbook method for closing airfields around the world.

Now that the retirement village has pulled out, council’s general manager John Walker has made it clear that council still wants to develop the now vacant retirement village site for ordinary residential development.

In other words, council hasn’t given up the Trojan horse notion and is still trying to implement it.

Despite comments that aviation agents have given the OK for residential development there is still the problem of the Office of Airspace Regulation declining to endorse what is called a Fly-Neighbourly Agreement for the airfield for aviators because existing residential areas are already too close.

And council wants to allow further residential development even closer to runways. Something just doesn’t add up here.

It is important we think that your readers understand that the whole airfield has been offered for sale to the airpark developers and not just the area set aside for an airpark as part of the aerodrome as in the current Plan of Management for the aerodrome, flawed as it is.

While the community was consulted about the original 2005 plan of management, the 2009 version was an in-house council version without community involvement.

The revised plan went well beyond what the Heritage Council had decided in its August 2005 deliberations and the plan should have come back to stakeholders for further deliberation.

The community has been cut out of any discussion about the future of the airfield and left in the dark about how much the whole airfield is being sold for although a figure of $2.5 million is circulating in the community, a bargain by any standard if it is true when you consider that the 10-hectare site for the failed retirement village, just part of the airfield was to be sold for $4.3 million.

Remember however, that this council has a history of selling its aviation assets cheaply. For example, the part of the Casino aerodrome in which the plane crashed and which was sold to private developers (and not the Campervan Motorhome Club of Australia [CMCA] as we all thought) for a third its actual value on sale completion on terms and conditions that would make your readers weep: total $660,000 on a deposit of $160,000 and then five interest-free annual payments of $100,000.

And this for a piece of real estate where the terminal building alone was valued at $800,000. And it too didn’t go out for public tender.

Notwithstanding claims from the council that everything’s OK at Evans Head for conventional residential development, we do not resile from the view that the aircraft accident at Casino in the adjacent village is a ‘wake-up’ call for Richmond Valley Council and the Minister for Transport Anthony Albanese to put in place evidenced-based safety zones around our precious airfields and replace the ridiculous ‘affordable risk’ models for development as a matter of urgency.

It is time to stop pandering to the big developers who would build right on the edge of and end of airstrips, using the Albanese model, given half a chance.

But at what cost to our society? If you don’t believe us you might like to take a closer look at the capture of Standards Australia by the big developers who are opposed to improvements to noise standards around airfields and the approval of a large residential development near Canberra airport by the NSW state government. And there’s more!

 


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