Editor: Media Release from Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee
RSL LifeCare Pulls Plug on Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Retirement Village Development.
The Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee learned (27/2) yesterday that RSL LifeCare, the proponent for a retirement village development on the State Heritage Listed Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome, has pulled the plug on its proposal.
In a letter to the General Manager of Richmond Valley Council, John Walker, RSL LifeCare clearly identifies council as the reason for its withdrawal from the project.
Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee Chairman Dr Richard Gates described the decision as “appropriate from the point of view of stopping inappropriate development on the aerodrome and in keeping with the wishes of many WWII Veterans who wanted the aerodrome kept as a working memorial to their comrades, but disappointing for the local community as the nursing home beds have been withdrawn from Evans Head”.
“We have 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”, he said.
The Office of Airspace Regulation (OAR) refused to endorse a ‘Fly Neighbourly Agreement’ for the proposed development because existing residential properties were already too close.
The RSL LifeCare development would have been even closer than existing residential development which should never have been permitted in the first place.
Most of the community is not aware of the fact that the former Richmond River Shire Council carved up part of the aerodrome for residential development without the required permission of the Federal government.
Council claimed it did so under a “gentlemen’s agreement” with the Commonwealth but the Commonwealth denied this claim.
When the OAR refused a Fly Neighbourly Agreement this should have sent a clear message to the proponent and council.
It confirmed what we had been saying for years: The development is too close to the airfield.
Council dragged its feet on a Fly Neighbourly Agreeement for 7 years. If it had undertaken such an assessment in 2005 as required by the NSW State Heritage Council in August 2005 (http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/heritagebranch/heritage/heritagecouncil/hcminutes2005augspecial.pdf ), the RSL and ratepayers would not be in the parlous position they are in at present.
In 2007 the Aerodrome Committee commissioned an independent planning review of the site for the aged care facility which showed that the development would create a land use planning conflict but council ignored this advice.
The independent review also identified other sites where the nursing home component of the retirement village could be built at Evans Head but again these suggestion were discarded by council.
The nursing home component of the retirement village complex occupied less than 7% of the site.
We estimate that approximately $6 million dollars of ratepayers money has been spent on preparations for this inappropriate development when it was not necessary to have spent a cent. If it had gone ahead it would have cost us $20 million in subsidies.
The public should note Council ignored a proposal for a more appropriate airpark on the same site put to it in December 2002, well before it offered the land to RSL LifeCare in August 2004.
This was deliberate bastardry on the part of council as it clearly wanted to carve up the aerodrome for residential development.
Council offered the land to RSL LifeCare knowing the site was contaminated and claimed that it was all the fault of the RAAF in World War II when the evidence clearly showed council was the major cause of the contamination from poor work practices.
In our view there are a number of things that now need to be done:
- Council and councillors need to be held to account for this appalling mess which has left the people of the lower river without a nursing home and a huge bill.
- The site for the retirement village now needs to be rezoned to a more appropriate ‘SP’ infrastructure zoning in keeping with aerodrome purpose. Residential zoning should be removed.
- Other providers need to be canvassed for a nursing home at Evans Head at other locations. A proposal for a nursing home must not be tied to a huge retirement village complex as this reduces possible locations.
- Other areas need to be considered for a nursing home facility to accommodate the whole of the lower river area and not just Evans Head. A suitable location would be near the Coraki Hospital which should be resurrected. This would be ideal for a number of reasons including reduction in pressure on Lismore Base Hospital beds which is badly overloaded.
- Council needs to be made accountable for its appalling management of this matter because of the multimillion dollar waste of ratepayers 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 which govern the operation of the Panel. Questions also need to be asked about the role that Minister 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 and whether or not there was any potential conflict of interest.
- How is it that Defence was convinced to stump up money for rehabilitation for decontamination for a vacant site on an aerodrome but no money was forthcoming for already developed residential areas which were once part of the aerodrome and ratepayers were potentially at risk? Why was that money used to destroy part of a runway on the aerodrome and an important drainage system whose destruction is now causing flooding? There was no obligation whatsoever to provide any funds for such a purpose under a Federal Transfer Deed over the aerodrome.
- The Minister for Infrastructure Mr Albanese needs to explain his failure to protect the aerodrome from inappropriate development. Why did he fail to enforce the Transfer Deed over the site with the Commonwealth? The Minister needs to justify his comments that ‘local government is best placed to make decisions about aviation infrastructure’ when the evidence shows council doesn’t have a clue about this specialist area and should not have been involved in making decisions about matters such as public safety and aviation.
- The Department of Health and Ageing needs to explain how it could have allowed the allocated nursing home beds to have remained non-operational for 12 years when they are supposed to be on the ground after 2. The Evans Head bed fiasco is the longest standing on record according to Senate Estimates.
- The role of the Division of Local Government needs to be assessed independently. It sat on its hands through much of this process and left the community to hang out to dry.
Dr Gates said that “in view of the damning letter from RSL LifeCare about Richmond Valley Council’s handling of the whole affair and in view of our assessment that at least $6 million of ratepayers money has been wasted perhaps it is time for the Minister for Local Government to step up to the plate and review the future of Richmond Valley Council as a local government area”.
“Minister Page is in the box seat. Now is the time for boundary changes. Richmond Valley Council has failed as an amalgamated council. Council areas might be better aligned to suit communities of interest along the lines of the proposal put by the community in 2010 for the coastal areas to become part of a greater coastal council”.