THE realignment of Fernhill Road as a future primary airport access option is off the table in a win for residents who feared for their homes and its impact on the environment.
The unanimous decision by councillors was a result thorough investigations ensuring all the facts could be considered, according to deputy mayor Lisa Intemann said.
In 2019, the Saving Fernhill Community Action Group presented a petition to Port Macquarie-Hastings Council with more than 3800 signatures opposing the Fernhill Rd option as an airport access link.
The group offered to work with council to find a less destructive solution than the proposed flood-free airport access road corridor under investigation, which runs through their neighbourhood.
The airport link is part of council's wider orbital road investigation corridor.
Spokesperson for Saving Fernhill, Grant Mitchell, said the decision is a proud moment and "huge relief" for residents who strongly advocated for transparency and genuine engagement. He said it was only because of their persistence they were able to show that due process had not been followed.
"We can move on with our lives, but we still need to recognise there are more than a thousand other residents and 400 homes still impacted. Fernhill Rd is a very small part of the (proposed) orbital road," Mr Mitchell said.
"We were able to advocate where due process had not been followed and we were able to highlight that to council. During the community consultation phase what we didn't know, and what council didn't tell us, was that strategic concept plans were already drawn up.
"We didn't give up, but we should not have been in the position we were in. There was a lack of process, lack of communication, lack of transparency and genuine engagement which we thought we were getting and we weren't. It was a smack in the teeth.
"It's a concern the inconsistencies here could very well be there for the east-west link and north-south link (of the proposed orbital road). The reality is we're only 12-16 houses affected by this part of the 'blue line' - the airport road is still very much in play."
Cr Intemann said the decision is the best outcome for the residents of Fernhill Road, and the broader community, who expressed concerns about the impacts on sensitive koala habitats.
Mayor Peta Pinson, who made a bid to have all residents impacted by the broader orbital road investigation area removed from the investigation zone, "reluctantly" supported the decision.
"You can't consider one lot of residents and leave the others hanging," the mayor said.
"It is a furphy that (council) will ever be able to afford an orbital road. What we really need to do is seek alternate routes that aren't in densely populated land."
Cr Intemann refused to engage in the mayor's "untimely" suggestion council was creating uncertainty for residents potentially impacted by future road planning along the proposed orbital road route.
Instead, Cr Intemann reinforced the importance of good decision-making based on facts and said that is what had been achieved specifically in considering all the information presented to council from Transport NSW on the issue of Fernhill Rd.
"That small link road proposal never came to councillors for consultation before it went out to the community. Any common sense applied to the discussion of this matter will see that a link road did not stack up geologically, environmentally or in terms of heritage and amenity.
"I really feel like we've got a win here.
"To be frank, my main motivation in moving this was not only to clear the idea we would be building a road through that koala habitat, but to note that the geological environment there was not conducive to a road being built," Cr Intemann said.
"I really think it does a disservice to the entire community to try and befuddle this decision, this good news story, this very precise, specific good news story which came about not because of me having an idea, but because there was a meeting of minds and people were willing to acknowledge the facts of the situation.
"You don't get decisions made in this chamber just by having an idea of your own, you get it by engaging in teamwork, consultation and discussion and intelligent points being made - that's how changes are made."
Cr Griffiths said strategic road planning must be a priority for council moving forward.
"If we are looking to be future-focused what we're doing now is past tense - it's already gone. We've built through this area, it's basically removed itself," Cr Griffiths said.
"It's a state government issue to look at the Oxley Highway and improve that area and for council to look at connectivity to that area."
Cr Rob Turner said the Fernhill Rd decision is a strong example of what can be achieved collaboratively.
"The way we are looking at our road network now is very strategic and very future-focused. It's an holistic group looking at our road network strategy for the future and we need to look at all options," Cr Turner said.
"We want to get the information first, and some recommendations, so we can make good decisions for our community for the future."
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