Future of Katoomba Airfield (between Grand and Arethusa canyons)

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Future of Katoomba Airfield (between Grand and Arethusa canyons)

Post by T2 » 30 Apr 2019, 13:31

I've been sent the following by Lachlan Garland, President of the Blue Mountains Conservation Society. They are currently running a campaign against the issuing of a commercial license for the Katoomba Airfield -- which would potentially allow helicopter joyflights over surrounding area of Blue Mountains National Park including several neighbouring canyons. They are seeking to instead have the airfield added to the national park, with it only used for emergencies such as firefighting operations. Below is a copy of their letter, along with background information. If you are concerned about this proposal or would like to support the effort to have the airfield added to the national park, they have provided details below for how to get involved.


The Blue Mountains Conservation Society is a community-based volunteer organisation with over 800 members. The goal of the Society is to promote the conservation of the environment in the Greater Blue Mountains region. The Society is writing to alert you and your members to a threat to your peaceful enjoyment of the Grose Valley Wilderness Area and potentially the whole Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
The Department of Industry has commenced a process to award a new commercial lease over the Katoomba Airfield. This could mean the return of noisy helicopter flights over the Blue Mountains National Park, in particular the Grose Wilderness area.
You are possibly aware that this airfield is located at the end of Grand Canyon Road in Medlow Bath and is totally surrounded by the Blue Mountains National Park. Commercial use of the airfield by helicopters or light planes requires flying over at least some of the national park.
In the past there has been a commercial lease over this Crown Land, however we were fortunate that its commercial potential was not fully exploited, but it could be in future.
There was a 3 year period 1992-95 when joy flights were operating from the airfield. During this period, your members may recall how a privileged few destroyed the tranquil experience of the National Park for the majority. In fact, some of your members may have been involved in the campaign to stop these frequent noisy flights.
Government assessments of Katoomba Airfield between 1999 and 2008 have consistently recommended that the site be added to the Blue Mountains National Park and only used for emergency uses.

We ask you to join our campaign to support the inclusion of Katoomba Airfield into the Blue Mountains National Park, to be managed as an emergency airfield.
And also to:
• Object to any more commercial leases offered over Katoomba Airfield.
• Ask that the process of issuing a lease be stopped until after some meaningful community consultation on the future of the airfield is undertaken, considering all options.
• Ask that you be considered a key stakeholder in any upcoming community consultation.

We ask you to join our campaign by writing before mid May to:
the Minister responsible for Crown Lands -
Hon Melinda Pavey MP,
Minister for Water, Property and Housing
GPO Box 5341, Sydney NSW 2001
email: via https://www.nsw.gov.au/your-government/ ... d-housing/

and the Minister responsible for NPWS
The Hon. Matt Kean MP
Minister for Energy and Environment
GPO Box 5341, Sydney NSW 2001
email via https://www.nsw.gov.au/your-government/ ... vironment/

We have been informed that a community consultation by the Department of Industry will commence in May, however we are concerned that the scope of this may be quite limited, and not address the main issue of whether or not the land will be returned to the Park.
It is understood that this process will include online submissions, drop in sessions and possible meetings. We will endeavour to update you on this.
We have attached a basic information sheet with a map to clarify the background and issues. Information on the campaign is also on the Society website www.bluemountains.org.au and the website for the Katoomba Airfield Community Group www.ourblueys.org.

Background Information from the Blue Mountains Conservation Society

Where is Katoomba Airfield?
Katoomba Airfield is located on Grand Canyon Road, Medlow Bath. The airfield is public (Crown) Land and is managed by the NSW Government through the Department of Industry–Crown Lands. It is completely surrounded by the Blue Mountains National Park.

Proposed new commercial lease
The Department of Industry is currently negotiating a new long-term commercial lease over Katoomba Airfield to a private commercial operator. The previous lease expired in 2008 and the lessee’s rights over the airfield were forfeited in 2017. In Sept 2017 the Department of Industry called for Expressions-of-Interest (EOI) from parties interested in leasing the site.
As a result of the EOI process, in February 2018, an interim license was issued to a private commercial operator. The Department of Industry has now received a business plan from the licensee, setting out their commercial plans for the site, which is in preparation for the issuing of a long-term lease.
The Society is objecting to a commercial lease which is in direct contravention of recommendations from previous studies and consultations.

Land Assessments
The NSW Government’s Crown Lands division has previously carried out many studies of the site, culminating in a recommendation in 2000 that the area be added to the Blue Mountains National Park, with the airfield being used for emergency purposes only.
As one of the contributors to this process, the Society received a letter dated 2 Nov 2000 from the then Department of Land and Water Conservation, in which it stated that it: “proposed to add the area to the Blue Mountains National Park upon expiry of the current lease subject to discussions yet to be held between the relevant stakeholders….Upon addition of the area to the National Park it is proposed that those facilities required for bushfire surveillance and suppression including emergency use of the airfield and any infrastructure will be maintained by agreement of the relevant authorities. The areas of the site not required will be returned to natural bushland.”
As part of the consultation process, Blue Mountains City Council resolved In December 1999 to oppose the continuation of the private lease and requested that the land be incorporated into the Blue Mountains National Park (see Minute No 639 21/12/99).
In 2008, the then Department of Lands undertook yet another assessment process in terms of the site, and invited Blue Mountains City Council to participate in a consultation process for the future use and management of the site. Council’s submission objected to the sale of the land or the reissuing of a private lease. Council’s preferred option was again that the future use of the site be limited to emergency use and for the site to be incorporated into the Blue Mountains National Park(see Minute No 764 2/12/2008).
The Society strongly supports the recommendations of Council and the relevant state government agencies in 1999, 2000 and 2008, that is, that the land should not be privately leased, and that the site be incorporated into the Blue Mountains National Park and used for emergency and bushfire air operations only.
Likewise the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has previously supported the Katoomba Airfield being incorporated into the National Park, with the airfield managed for emergency and bushfire fire-fighting purposes.
Correspondence from Dept. of Industry Area Manager- Sydney South Coast, (23 February 2017) to RAPAC – Office of Airspace Regulation Civil Aviation Safety Authority states:
“The site of Katoomba Airfield was excised from the surrounding Blue Mountains National Park in the 1960s, on the basis the land would be returned to the Park when the original lease expired in 1988. While this did not eventuate, and the lease was renewed for a further term of 20 years, transfer of the land to the present day NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (National Parks and Wildlife Service) remains an option under consideration.”

Can Katoomba Airfield be incorporated into the national park?
The National Parks and Wildlife Service manages a number of airfields within national parks for management and emergency purposes. Specific funding to repair and restore the airfield could be allocated to National Parks from the Bushfire Risk Mitigation and Resilience Program managed by NSW Treasury.
The Society has long argued that the site be incorporated into the Blue Mountains National Park to be managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), with the airstrip managed and used for national park management and operational purposes and for emergency uses such as bushfire fighting, search and rescue and medical emergencies. This is similar to airstrips in other national parks (see Sturt National Park Plan of Management 2018 p54 https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/rese ... management).
If another commercial lease were granted NPWS and RFS would need to pay compensation to the lessee for loss of earnings for each day it took control of the airfield for emergency purposes …i.e. the community would pay.
NPWS has no powers to regulate the airspace over the National Park. The airspace over World Heritage Areas in some other countries is regulated, so it should be in Australia too.

Community Consultation
The Department of Industry has also advised that once a decision has been made to enter into negotiations to issue a commercial lease, a community consultation process will occur. No community consultation on options for the future of the airfield occurred prior to the EOI being released or the interim license being issued.
At this stage the community consultation promised by the Department of Industry has not commenced, and is now proposed for May.
Although there is a specific proposal to for commercial development by the current applicant, the key issue is what may be possible in future with a commercial lease. Will there be any future opportunities to reclaim this public land once a large investment of commercial infrastructure in the midst of the National Park has been made?

History of Commercial Operations
Previous lease operators did not adequately manage the site to prevent soil erosion and sediment movement, groundwater contamination or weed invasion. In addition short duration low flying joy flights over the Blue Mountains National Park operated from the airfield intensively between 1992 and 1995, causing significant impacts, including noise for Park visitors and residents, interruption of bird migratory patterns etc.
As a result of noise complaints a Fly Neighbourly Agreement was developed, which has proved to be useless. It is a voluntary code and not enforceable, or even monitored by any government agency.

The Society and residents are now actively campaigning to prevent another long term commercial lease being issued and to have the airfield incorporated into the Blue Mountains National Park.

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