In 2000 the Woodburn Evans Head Sub-branch of the RSL told Richmond Valley Council in no uncertain terms that plans to develop housing on the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome were tantamount to “defacing a dedicated war memorial” (see article below from the Northern Rivers Echo)By 2004 the same Sub-branch had been captured by the Ex-Services Homes Ballina and changed its tune. It was now OK to deface a War Memorial through housing development even though the World War II Veterans who trained at Evans Head wanted it kept as a working airfield and had gone to all the trouble of getting it listed on the NSW State Heritage Register in 2002 to make sure aviation was preserved and their mates continued to be recognised for their sacrifice (see plaque below).
Richmond Valley Council was quite happy to offer the Ballina Ex-Services Homes a place on the aerodrome for its retirement village complex in order to wedge the community and use the development as a Trojan Horse for future residential development. Council had had a long dream of carving up the airfield for residential development (see below) and had already sold off many blocks of land from the former aerodrome site without the necessary permission of the Federal government.
Initially, it offered three sites (see figure below) but reneged on two of them and chose one which would interfere with aviation. It tried to close part of the main runway near the proposed development in early 2005 but this attempt failed because of public outrage.
Council was still smarting over the Heritage Listing of the site by the community in 2002. It was clearly payback time for the successful listing which drew the Premier and his Cabinet to Evans Head to make the announcement in April.
According to information from the NSW Heritage Office the listing had the second highest level of support of any application which had been made with numerous letters from Veterans and their families and the wider community.
Council knew that ‘nuisance law’ would mean that once the development was on the aerodrome there would be complaints about noise from the residents which would lead to partial closure and then full closure of the aerodrome.
The decision of the NSW Heritage Council to put in place a caveat to take away the right of future residents on the aerodrome to make noise complaints recognised the potential of the nuisance law to destroy aviation at the airfield. They were very clear that aviation was to be preserved as part of its heritage significance.
The Joint Regional Planning Panel tried to destroy this requirement of the Heritage Council at its Hearing in March 2012 but failed to do so when it approved the development.
Without warning they introduced changes to the planning approval at the Hearing which were contradictory and were quite happy to ram them through with the support of a panel member who was also a member of an RSL Sub-branch with an identified ‘conflict of interest‘.
The JRPP failed to recognise in their haste to approve the retirement village that they had contradicted the General Terms of Approval of the Heritage Council which raises, in our view, serious questions about their competence as a planning panel. Did they read the terms of approval set out by the Heritage Council or where they too busy listening to Richmond Valley Council and the proponent and blind to the contradictory conditions they said ‘yes’ to?
They didn’t listen to the 11 parties who argued against the development. They didn’t even keep proper Minutes.
All of this begs the question: ‘Where is the principled Sub-branch we saw in 2000 which stood behind the World War II Veterans and their desire to keep the site from inappropriate development in memory of their fallen mates’?
Nowhere to be seen, or so it would be seem! It would appear that the World War II Veterans account for nothing. Self-interest seems to be the guiding principle.
And why can’t a nursing home be built on the council-owned blocks of land along Tuckeroo Street at Evans Head? Is it because council has other plans for this land and has had these plans for some time now in conjunction with NSW Lands Department?
The continuing vilification of those who oppose the development of the retirement village complex on the aerodrome is a sad indictment of those who vilify. But more than that it is a way of deflecting attention away from Richmond Valley Council and the $6 million dollar bill it has run up at ratepayer expense for this failed project with no business plan.
The word ‘scapegoating’ comes to mind. Blame someone else for your own failures rather than ‘fess up’ and learn from your mistakes. Not a good look. And transparent to the public.
In our view the Woodburn-Evans Head Sub-branch of the RSL is failing in its duty to its World War II Veterans and their wish to keep the aerodrome as a ‘working airfield’.