Seven of the nine Coffs Harbour councillors voted to take no action at this stage to call tenders for a scoping study on Coffs Harbour Regional Airport.
Seven of the nine Coffs Harbour councillors voted to take no action at this stage to call tenders for a scoping study on Coffs Harbour Regional Airport. Trevor Veale/Coffs Coast Advocat

Caution over new airport model

COFFS Harbour City councillors have chosen to delay any move toward a new management model for Coffs Harbour Regional Airport.

At Thursday's council meeting, seven of the nine councillors backed a move by former mayor Keith Rhoades to take no action at this stage to call tenders for a scoping study.

This was to be the first phase of forming opinion on further governance options for the airport.

Cr Rhoades said the airport was an outstanding success story; good business people had been involved with its focus group and the benefits to the community had been mind-boggling, but he believed it was too early in the airport's growth for management change.

"This is the child of many councils and there are decisions still to be made - some things about this do not sit comfortably with some people," Cr Rhoades said.

"It is not just the airport itself - there is a land development release which has not yet had approval or disapproval from the Joint Regional Planning Panel - will the council lose control of pricing structures?

"A lease is something which should be looked at down the track.

"Our colleagues in Ballina have gone out to do something similar - let's sit back and see how that process unfolds.

"It's not about killing it off completely, but there is a lot more development to be done, including one stage of the airport and we have just put in for grant funding (for that)."

Cr Gary Innes and Cr Rodney Degens opposed the delay, with Cr Innes saying a scoping study done now might answer some of Cr Rhoades' questions and Cr Degens saying delay could see the council lose the opportunity to gain a " a handsome reward".

The council's general manager Steve McGrath said the new development application for the industrial land had been lodged in May, with the assessment process referred to an independent assessor. He said the DA would go to the Joint Regional Planning Panel and he expected this would take three to four months.

Mr McGrath said the proposal for the study, which would be funded by Coffs Harbour Regional Airport, brought to a head a range of briefings over recent months.

Specialist consultants The Airport Group (TAG) have held three briefings with Coffs Harbour Council since last year.

TAG is currently consulting for the council on the development of industrial land at the airport.

In the last review of management options in 2013, a public/private partnership scored highest in the evaluation, but no recommendation was made.

The council's director of business services, Andrew Beswick, said part of the rationale for the timing of the proposed tender was for decisions to be reached within the term of the current council, which expires in September 2016.

The mayor reminded councillors several times the proposal was for calling for tenders only at this stage.

Although she supported his motion for delay, deputy mayor Sally Townley drew criticism from Cr Rhoades when she spoke about the creation of the proposed airport industrial area "in a swampland," a description of the low-lying site Cr Rhoades rebutted indignantly.



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