Coffs Coast Business, Local

Lease of airport critical to ‘Future-proofing’ city for generations to come – Chamber of Commerce.

The Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce believes that the upcoming Coffs Harbour City Council decision on the future of the management operations of Coffs Harbour Regional Airport and Enterprise Park is critical for the future of the City, and removes the risk and financial commitment to ratepayer for generations to come.

Coffs Harbour Airport

Below is the transcript of the public speech the Chamber made to the Coffs Harbour City Council Meeting when it last considered this issue.

The Chamber believes its relevance to the upcoming meeting and decision is arguably even more crucial.

“The recommendation before you this evening is arguably THE most important decision to come before this term of council. Why? Because it sets the foundation from which a multitude of enhancements, and real future city growth will evolve.

It is truly a generational prospect and must be viewed not from the guise of a short-term fix but a 50 to 100 year vision that will become your legacy. The Chamber are the first to stand and applaud the evolution, growth, and indeed management to date of the Coffs Harbour Regional Airport by our council. The passion, tenacity and love for this facility that Dennis Martin has displayed over his 10 year tenure is truly remarkable, and worthy of him being awarded his OAM, and we thank him for his service to the City. With Dennis departing this clearly means that a definitive path of action must be taken tonight to ensure that a smooth and timely transition takes place.

We would like to point out some powerful reasons for this recommendation to be unanimously supported tonight:

1. Accelerated outcomes – from all private lease operator arrangements that we have investigated (and I’m sure you have been privy to within the confidential report by the Airport Group) it is clear that private investment will provide deliverables that far exceed possible expectations from a ratepayer funded perspective, as well as significantly reduced time-frames.

2. Divestment of airport operational and organisational risks from council and ratepayers to the private operator

3. Divestment of council financial and resource commitments from airport operations to other critical council infrastructure and community needs

4. Significant upfront capital windfall to off-set upcoming project completion, coupled with ongoing revenue

5. The ability to structure a commercial arrangement that protects current tenants, council interests, and requires defined outcomes for the city

6. The rapid completion, leasing and ongoing management of the Airport Enterprise Park

7. The very real opportunity to deliver Coffs to the world, and bring the world directly to Coffs.

Consider these current ironies and imagine the possibilities with the new Management structure:

– Coffs HARBOUR has been awarded the World Festival and Event City 4 years running…yet we can’t fly the world directly into Coffs

– We are entering our 9th year of World Rally Championships…yet imagine if we could fly them in direct

– We have hosted World Touch and Oztag titles with the latter delivering 29 countries and 5000 competitors and support personnel…yet we can’t fly them in direct

– We have the CEX International Stadium….yet we don’t have an international airport.

– Screenwave International Film Festival…International Buskers Festival…the list goes on

– From 2013 to 2018 exports from Coffs Harbour (internationally and domestically outside Coffs) have increased 120% for manufacturing, 75% for wholesale trade, and 20% for agri-business yet these companies are required to transport by road to Sydney, Brisbane or Toowoomba to get them out of the country, crippling business opportunity, export growth opportunity, and denying Coffs its hard earned right to be front and Centre on the world export stage.

Why are these important to tonight…because tonight’s decision is the foundation of so much more for this city than just who manages the airport moving forward.

When Sunshine Coast Airport private lease arrangements commenced in early 2017 after 17 expressions of interest were received, the Mayor of the Sunshine Coast said “Our partnership will strengthen and grow the airport’s services and capabilities, contribute significantly to the economic growth of our region and at the same time, enable council to maintain an economic interest in the airport – thus ensuring ratepayers share in the airport’s performance into the future. Furthermore, the partnership will limit any long term adverse impact on council’s financial position or on our ratepayers. He went on to say, “The partnership will ultimately enable more direct flights to more locations in Australia, Asia and the Western Pacific. Those new routes will boost our tourism and international trade and help our export businesses, particularly those operating in the food and agri-business sectors, so they get their products and services to markets faster and more efficiently.”

The operators were able to firmly cement the Sunshine Coast Airport as the most environmentally friendly airport on the planet, achieving recognition as a Carbon Neutral operation by the Airport Carbon Accreditation Program in March this year. A 24% reduction in carbon emissions, a 9% reduction in electricity consumption per passenger, and an 11% reduction in waste to land-fill. Coffs Harbour can be next.

We have had dialogue with current airport tenants, and indeed councilors, who express concern regarding the risk of elevated costs/charges that private operations may result in. In response to this it is important to remember that as the lessor (this council) and the incredibly talented council staff or consultants have the opportunity to structure the lease terms to protect, stipulate, or require certain operating criteria to be met, including upfront and ongoing lease fees to the successful applicant.

The Enterprise Park is proposed for the bottom part of this aerial photograph of the airport.

Finally we remind Councillors that in the report to Council earlier this year by the Airport Group (Australia’s pre-eminent airport operations consultancy firm) the professional opinion was that of the 23 objectives set out for Coffs Harbour’s desired outcomes the only model that met every criteria was the lease option.

Noting, and I quote, “the lease model is the only model that gives seperation of financial, operational and resourcing responsibility”. Anything but acceptance of this model clearly is a message that this council would not only accept a position that only fulfills part off their own criteria, but that they would be willing to ignore expert opinion and experience that ratepayers invested in receiving.

The time for growth crippling procrastination and indecision from some civic leaders must end now, or shall the lack of courage, vision, and opportunity on their watch be forever remembered by future generations as regions around us prosper. What will you be remembered for in your term on Council? What will be your legacy to this city? Will it be sound decision making based on expert opinion and the best interest of the city, or will it be that this Council let tangible opportunities slip through its grasp?

Make sure when generations look back on the 6th December 2018 that it was you that was pivotal in securing the long term, fiscally responsible, risk minimised future for our airport, our Enterprise Park, our exporters, our businesses, our tourism sector, our region and its ratepayers.

This is your time, this is our time, this is the next critical step in the future of Coffs Harbour’s connectivity and growth to the world, and The Chamber implores you to adopt this recommendation tonight.”


The above is a release by the Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce made via their Facebook page – Wednesday 27 November 2019.

Other stories on this issue can be found here; https://www.inframationgroup.com/australias-coffs-harbour-airport-tender-within-three-months

And also here; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/to-lease-the-airport-its-ultimately-the-customer-who-always-pays/

8 Comments

  1. So who should one believe about an airport that currently makes Council between $3m-$4m per annum our Chamber of Commerce (CH CofC) or the Productivity Commission? (Potentially $396m over 99 years – the life of the lease)

    Here is what the Productivity Commission has to say about turning airports into privatised monopoly’s;

    ““An effective regulatory regime is needed for the major airports in Australia according to a submission made by the ACCC to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the economic regulation of airports.

    “In a large country like Australia, airports are critical pieces of infrastructure that provide for services that bring families and friends together, support business travellers and drive tourism and economic growth. Australian airports now provide for over 150 million airline passengers each year,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

    “Providers of key monopoly infrastructure such as the major airports are typically regulated to ensure that they will not exploit their market power to the detriment of consumers and the broader economy. This is not currently the case with Australia’s major airports.”

    “It is important that key monopoly infrastructure such as Australia’s major gateways are regulated,” Mr Sims said.

    See: https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/effective-airport-regulation-needed-note-reissued-with-amended-headline

    Yes, way more authorative than the CH CofC I would argue.

    But will our Councillors just ignore this, just as at least four of them seem to have conveniently ignored a wealth of other important data in relation to their precious ‘Taj Mahal’ in Gordon Street?

    • Also Ron, just as with the inclusion of the council admin offices in the ‘cultural and civic space’, this council simply has no mandate to grant a lease of the airport for 99 years without first putting it before the community through genuine public consultation, by way of a referendum, or as part of a candidate’s platform during council elections. It should not be rushed through council just because the chamber of commerce thinks its a good idea. The privatisation of the airport will have wide ranging impacts, implications and consequences that to date have not been explored or explained to the community.

      Given that the location of the airport is along a narrow strip of land smack bang in the middle of town, with flight paths at both ends directly overhead of established commercial and residential areas, does not exactly make it suitable for increased air traffic, let alone large international jet aircraft and cargo planes servicing a proposed regional freight terminal.

      Has CHCC explored all other options? One option might be to obtain suitable land north of Coffs Harbour for a new expanded regional airport/freight terminal, perhaps in partnership with Clarence Valley Council, and invite private enterprise to lease the site long-term and develop at their cost? This would eventually free-up all of the strip of valuable coastal land upon which the existing airport sits which down the track could be rezoned as residential/commercial. This is the sort of long-term planning we should expect from our civic leaders, not the short sighted, ill-conceived proposals being rushed through without community consent before the next council election.

      Just when will this council STOP being compromised and influenced by localised vested interest groups?

      • You are quite right CLB – Council has no mandate for this at all and it should go to a vote at the next election or to a referendum before if necessary. It most certainly was not on the agendat at all at the last council elections.

        The whole 2018 Chamber of Commerce speech strikes me as being badly researched boosterism. Fair play to them for being ‘optimistic’ but airlines will be way more ‘hard nosed’ when it comes to committing to international direct flights.

        No specific business cases are referred to in relation to the events the Chamber cite and what their two way viability for airlines really amount to and what their international ‘pulling power’ really amounts to. By that I mean their ability to build passenger numbers on a consistent basis both in and out of Coffs Harbour at say 80% capacity, seating and/or cargo, or better for each return flight. Airlines base their decisions on constant two way capacity.

        Additionally the WRC is not guaranteed for Coffs Harbour any more. It is not here in 2020 and the bush fire cancellation this year may have proved fatal to it.

        And that speech might have been OK in 2018 but since then the ACCC submission to the Productivity Commission has altered things and it is remiss of the Chamber to just ignore such a report. In fact such an omission is of concern as it strikes me as being deliberate. I hope I am wrong.

        On top of that the tourism and hospitality product here is tired and it currently lacks crucial market differentitation. A lot of work needs to be done on that first before tourists will consider coming here on direct flights.

        Lastly I agree 100% with you when you say; “just when will this council STOP being compromised and influenced by localised vested interest groups?” Here, here.

        • It’s also interesting that amongst all of the statistics quoted in the chamber’s overly upbeat presentation, there is no mention of passenger numbers which is the most vital of key performance measurements for determining the value of airports in the eyes of investors. It may have been because passenger numbers at the airport in previous years had been a trifle precarious with the number of passengers actually falling by 23,000 during 2013-2014 to 354,000 and only recovering to 397,000 during 2016-2017. According to CHCC, passenger numbers at Coffs airport increased during 2017-2018 by 17,000 to 415,000, but given the looming intention to privatise, just how reliable this figure actually is, is anyone’s guess.

          Nevertheless, this is still a far cry from the 1 million passengers that Sunshine Coast airport achieved prior to privatisation in 2017 which is being touted in the chamber’s presentation as the holy grail for CHCC to emulate.

          Perhaps such a disparity in numbers will allow council to offload the airport at a huge discount, just as they intend to do with council owned properties to part fund the proposed Civic/Cultural/Admin space on Gordon Street.

    • It is not a coincidence that there always seems to be a more authoritative and informed party than our Council and its Cohorts.
      Two years on from commencing the lease of Sunshine Coast Airport, little has changed in operations. In Oct 2019 the operator had only completed the Masterplan to 2040. There has been no runway extension/renewal and the Asia and Pacific flights lauded by the Chamber of Commerce have not commenced.

      I am all for progressing Coffs LGA, but we have heard this all before and got a new runway and I believe one flight to NZ with the Wallabies.

      Based on the ACCC’ full market review, I have serious reservations.

  2. If the Council adopts the recommendations as outlined in the staff report (read, General Manager Steve McGrath), it should become the subject of an ASIC and ACCC investigation before going any further.
    While the airport infrastructure of this scale is currently in the hands of the Coffs Harbour City Council, there is a National interest and National security issues here that no Government can ignore.
    Before any contracts or designated contracts can be deemed as binding, the history and plans for the airport the Council have been working towards, must come under further investigation by the authorities created to scrutinise this level of infrastructure and how it is traded.
    The Coffs Harbour Airport is not some rural cattle sale yard or rubbish tip that can easily be privatised, but an asset the Council gained from the Federal Government for a song.
    The intention of the hand over was for the Council to be the owner and operator, not to be used as a speculative real estate venture.
    It must remain in the community’s hands if it is to continue to serve the community’s interests, including National interests and not those of a corporate entity that has profit making for share holders as its sole raison d’être.

  3. Privatising airports ,just ask the airlines and passengers in Sydney airport.The parking is more expensive than airline tickets!! Macquarie bank has done wonders with the airport not .Do we ever learn ask the ACCC boss Rod Sims he said “selling public assets has created unregulated monopolies that hurt productivity and damage the economy”

  4. Jeanette Smidt

    This council is a law unto themselves. Several months ago Mr Jason Bailey [Coffs Coast Holiday Parks Manager] was seconded to manage the lease of the airport. Does he have the qualifications to handle such a huge project? I do not believe any senior staff member of CHCC has the necessary ability to do this job

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