The Greens urge Port Macquarie-Hastings Council to revisit airport expansion planning

Business plan: The Greens' David Shoebridge has slammed Port Macquarie-Hastings Council over its expansion plans for the airport and the loss of koala habitat. Pic: SMH
Business plan: The Greens' David Shoebridge has slammed Port Macquarie-Hastings Council over its expansion plans for the airport and the loss of koala habitat. Pic: SMH

Should Port Macquarie-Hastings Council push ahead with expansion plans for the airport and damage to endangered koala habitat based on a business case that is now seven years old?

Greens NSW MP and planning spokesperson David Shoebridge says no.

Mr Shoebridge said the Greens have read council’s business case for the proposed airport precinct upgrade and the numbers just don’t stake up anymore.

“We have checked the business case that the council has used to support this expansion plan. But the document uses a business case from 2010 with assumptions (on passenger number increases) that are now wrong,” the Greens MP said.

“Those figures from seven years ago are based on increased routes from carriers. But those two routes – Jetgo’s heralded direct flights to Melbourne and Virgin’s Brisbane to Port Macquarie – are now terminated.

“I would assume that council would have revisited its business plan. But it looks like they have their head in the sand on this matter,” he said.

Mr Shoebridge said the council was ‘now effectively gambling with $50 million of ratepayers money.

He said council should undertake a genuinely independent review of the business case, he said.

“Until that is done, there should not be another dollar spent on this white elephant,” he added.

In April, council director Matt Rogers said the airport expansion needed to be done through merging growth and sensitivity.

Chair of council’s airport advisory group Cr Justin Levido said council does not expect the proposed airport expansion to contribute to further decline in the local koala population because of the significant mitigation measures that form part of the airport expansion project.

“These measures include the permanent conservation of 444 ha of native vegetation in the vicinity of the airport and that includes 350 ha of koala habitat,” Cr Levido said.

Passenger numbers at Port Macquarie Airport have doubled over the past 10 years – 225,000 passengers in 2016 compared to 112,000 passengers in 2006.

Cr Justin Levido

“Council also plans to compensate for any koala habitat loss by securing vegetation offsets. The process that has been followed is in accordance with the biocertification assessment rules set down by the NSW office of the environment and heritage.

“Under the proposed plan, any removal of native vegetation will be carefully managed, consistent with the requirements of environment and heritage to minimise impacts to the maximum extent possible.

“Port Macquarie Airport is a key component of the regional transport network, and the airport master plan represents a long term (20+ year) plan to ensure that the airport is able to continue to develop, supporting the ongoing growth and development of our region and Port Macquarie as a regional city. 

“The biocertification assessment is required for both the current operation of the airport and its planned future development.”

The advisory group chair also hit back at claims that air passenger numbers were declining.

“Passenger numbers at Port Macquarie Airport have doubled over the past 10 years – 225,000 passengers in 2016 compared to 112,000 passengers in 2006,” he said.

“Passenger numbers are forecast to double over the next 20 years, and it is important that council plans for the future.

“Virgin Australia’s services between Port Macquarie and Brisbane are now being operated by Alliance Airlines under a code-share arrangement with Virgin Australia.”

Overall passenger numbers at Port Macquarie Airport in July were the highest July figures on record while long term passenger growth rates at Port Macquarie Airport continue to exceed the national average, Cr Levido added.

The application is currently before the state government.