The long term lease of the airport may be executed following the final vote at this week’s council meeting. Photo: Trevor Veale
The long term lease of the airport may be executed following the final vote at this week’s council meeting. Photo: Trevor Veale

Divisive airport lease plan nears point of no return

COUNCILLORS will this week make the final decision on whether to execute the controversial long term lease of Coffs Harbour Airport to a private operator.

Coffs Harbour City Councillors first made the decision to explore the potential for a third party lease in December 2018 with an EOI, following the announcement longstanding airport manager Dennis Martin would retire.

Mr Martin had held the position under a contract with the council since 2008, and during his time revenue had doubled.

Mr Martin’s retirement left big shoes to fill, and in November last year councillors voted to progress ahead with a Tender for Binding Bids for the lease of the public asset.

Former airport manager Dennis Martin’s retirement prompted council to explore the possibility of leasing the airport. Photo: Trevor Veale
Former airport manager Dennis Martin’s retirement prompted council to explore the possibility of leasing the airport. Photo: Trevor Veale

The confidential nature of the lease has proven contentious with some councillors and the public, with Cr Paul Amos making repeated attempts to have the proposed length of the lease made public.

He, alongside councillors Tegan Swan and John Arkan, have been sceptical of the lease proposal and previously made a failed attempt to have the decision to progress the lease rescinded.

The councillors had stressed in a September council meeting their concerns the council was “not getting a good deal.”

“We are potentially getting ourselves into a situation where we are doing our community out of a lot of future revenue and opportunity,” Cr Swan said at the time.

On the other hand, council staff have made clear the benefits of leasing the airport, which includes the potential to grow the airport with the funds being borne from the aviation-experienced lessee, rather than the public.

The lessee would also take over the management and provide investment into the Enterprise Park development.

Deputy PM Michael McCormack, Federal MP Pat Conaghan and Mayor Denise Knight turned the first sod of the Enterprise Park development in January. The Federal Government is partly funding the development. Photo: Trevor Veale
Deputy PM Michael McCormack, Federal MP Pat Conaghan and Mayor Denise Knight turned the first sod of the Enterprise Park development in January. The Federal Government is partly funding the development. Photo: Trevor Veale

At Thursday’s meeting, councillors will make the ultimate vote on whether to give the General Manager authority to execute the lease.

If successful, the public will be made available of the details of the lease following the development of a communication plan between the new airport manager and the council.

Council have created a website on the airport lease which seeks to provide the public with more information. See the website here.