The recent transfer of a lease of a Tweed crown reserve used for years as public recreation to the owners of the adjoining Gold Coast Airport has sparked fears it will be used to make way for a runway extension into NSW to accommodate international air traffic.
The private operators of the airport last week unveiled a master plan for a massive upgrade of the airport, which could include an extended runway and a new international terminal on the southern part of land the airport now controls.
The plan also includes air bridges, light and heavy rail links and multi-storey terminal and car park, with work expected to start within two years.
But NSW MP Jan Barham fears protections for the crown reserve on NSW land south of the airport will be lost forever.
Ms Barham says she has asked several questions in state parliament in the past week over the lease transfer but straight answers had not been forthcoming.
The Greens MLC and former Byron shire mayor said she was ‘concerned that the NSW government has exposed the land to inadequate protection from the impact of development work at the site, including the possible extension of the runway’.
Ms Barham warned the transfer of the land appeared to be part of an overall plan by the airport for extension of the runway that would involve the clearing of significant lands.
‘It appears that the minister is unaware of the plans of the airport to seek an extension of the runway that would involve the destruction of important ecological areas and impact on residents’ amenity,’ Ms Barham told Echonetdaily.
‘In November 2013, Gold Coast Airport wrote to the then (NSW) planning minister Brad Hazzard and stated that “in the longer term, the securing of the additional land area for the airport will enable construction of an extension to the runway”.
‘The community should be very concerned that the current proposal opens the door for the airport to carry out major work toward a runway extension and airport expansion, without adequate NSW government oversight of environmental protection and development approval on Crown land,’ she said.
‘Last week when the Minister for Lands answered my question about the lack of consultation and safeguards before the lease was transferred, he referred to the current public consultation about the proposed installation of an Instrument Landing System and said there would be a subsequent approval process.
‘But the airport’s own Preliminary Draft Major Development Plan makes clear that the approval process only relates to work being undertaken on the Commonwealth airport land, not the NSW Crown Reserve.
‘This week I asked whether there will be any environmental planning and approval process for any work being conducted on the NSW Crown land, but the Minister wasn’t able to provide any assurance,’ Ms Barham said.
The massive upgrade, according to airport operators, would allow the airport to handle around a dozen A330-sized aircraft at a time.
News Corp reported last week that the plan would be presented to the federal government for approval within two years.
Gold Coast Airport chief operating officer David Collins last week told a business breakfast he hoped to release the design for the major expansion in coming months.
Mr Collins said it would include ‘a major expansion to the south ‘and our intention would be to move the international terminal there into a purpose-built facility’.
The relocated international terminal, according to the News Corp report, will allow for an expansion of the existing domestic travel area to make room for an expected surge in passenger numbers.
Gold Coast Airport is the sixth busiest airport in the country, with more than 500,000 passengers a month.
A longtime campaigner against the transfer of the land, Lindy Smith, warned last year that a NSW government white paper on crown lands legislation was a smokescreen paving the way for the privatisation of crown reserves, including the Tweed land.
Ms Smith at the time said the move indicated ‘the government will have first cherry pick of those lands no doubt already earmarked by commercial interests for development in the eastern division of our state and hand what is left over to local councils!’.
Ms Smith said any transfer would run contrary to the aims of the Crown Lands Act
‘The true objective of repealing the Act that lurks behind the scenes has serious implications and will erode our enjoyment of our community and natural resources important to our way of life and healthy communities,’ she said.
Ms Smith, a member of the Tweed Heads Pony Club which had the lease of the reserve for years, said crown reserves were lands ‘set aside on behalf of the community for a wide range of public purposes, including environmental/heritage protection, recreation/sport, open space, community halls, special events, etc’.
She said reserves ‘are created to protect and manage important community resources to be enjoyed by many generations’.