THE Council chambers were packed with more than 50 members of the public in attendance for the airport development motion to have an independent review of the underlying business assumptions before the project proceeds, with emotions running high amongst participants and Councillors alike.
There were six members of the community who addressed Council on the issue. Community members are not allowed to ask the Councillors questions during public participation and may only speak about their nominated motion. Councillors are able to ask questions of the participants, but on many occasions Councillors failed to ask questions and merely made statements or entered into arguments with the participants.
Council will publish an audio file of the full meeting, which we will provide a link to once live.
Mr Dutton first addressed the Council meeting and spoke in support of a motion for an independent review. Mr Dutton highlighted many financial concerns with the project and said he did not believe the project in its current form had the confidence of the public, adding it was not becoming of the local government authority. Mayor Bedggood interjected and said, “I’m not going to warn you again Mr Dutton….you know the rules!” Mr Dutton said he believed a Council running an airshow was “a major risk in a risky business”.
Cr Maurice Collison said he had a question for Mr Dutton and stood up with his phone saying, “boys and their toys!” He then elaborated that he believed Mr Dutton had referred to aircraft which used the airport as “boys and their toys” which he took exception to and continued waiving his phone saying “that’s a photo of firefighting!” The Mayor interjected and asked if Cr Collison had a question for Mr Dutton, to which he responded, “…the question is look at the big picture!”
Mr Dutton said he wanted a viable airport going forward and he personally had a particular interest in warbirds because his father had been on war bombers, but wanted a “viable project the community has confidence going forward with.”
Cr Collison then said that one of his family members had told him that Mr Dutton had made derogatory comments about him, at which point the Mayor asked Cr Collison to sit down.
Cr Fisher asked many questions of Mr Dutton including if he was supportive of the project or not, to which Mr Dutton said he was supportive of the upgrades and the museum, but questioned many of the underlying assumptions. Cr Fisher questioned issues surrounding the taxiway, photographs of the runway, subsoil and drainage, visitor numbers and there were arguments about the rural water supply scheme and spitfires.
Mr Gleeson said on a personal level he appreciated the time Councillors put into their duties, but questioned if any of them thought $25million was a lot of money for the project. Mayor Bedggood said that Mr Dutton was “being quite derogatory and you are not to ask Councillors questions!” Mr Dutton said he believed Scone was reaching its peak in populations and was concerned as a ratepayer with the project. He said he believed the airport was built in the wrong location, on black soil and could not understand how Scone could attract 1,000 visitors per week. Mr Gleeson said he would love to see the vision work, but was concerned about how ratepayers would pay back a $10 million loan. Mr Gleeson speculated that it must be “somebody’s dream”, saying previous Mayors had had big dreams such as sports complexes, but said “this is a very big dream”. Mr Gleeson thanked Cr Abbott for raising the motion and said, “look at the people here” remarking that there had not been that many residents since the pool decision. He suggested the project was entrepreneurial and perhaps better done by private sector.
Cr Collison said, “you can’t get grant funding for private enterprise.” Then said, “are you aware we have applied to the Federal Government for more money?” Mr Gleeson responded no he was not aware.
Mayor Bedggood said he had found a document on his desk in 2002 that he had “dusted off and that’s where we got it from.” Mr Gleeson then said, “so it’s Wayne’s dream?” to which the Mayor said, “I suppose so” adding that it was someone else’s dream “I just dusted it off.”
Ms Munroe said she was frightened that when concerns were raised about the project Council’s general manager would point to the airport making money. Ms Munroe animatedly said, “but we are going to make 100’s of millions out of this,” and the Mayor interjected to say she would not be allowed to continue to speak if she continued in that fashion. Ms Munroe outlined her concerns with Council saying the airport could close due to CASA certification and emergency services not being able to use the airport, when the emergency service providers had confirmed they would still be able to use the airport and indirectly questioned why Council would have “told us that”. Ms Munroe said the general manager had advised her the plan for the airport dated back to 2015, but questioned why the airport plans were not part of the Council’s five year strategic plan. Ms Munroe said the warbird museum should be done by private investors saying she “didn’t want our Council saddled with the debt.”
Mr Pinfold began by saying he did not oppose the project, but supported the motion for an independent review. Mr Pinfold highlighted concerns about the business strategy being able to support the repayments of the loan for the project and also highlighted the last airshow lost $30,000 of ratepayers money, even though there had been a $50,000 donation from Bengalla Coal. He questioned if ventures such as the financial risk of an airshow and running a museum were appropriate for local government and may be best undertaken by the private sector. He called for a pause with the project until an independent report could be undertaken and the level of financial risk is reduced.
Cr Collison highlighted figures of growth at the Scone airport and asked Mr Pinfold if he could explain it? Mr Pinfold simply replied, “no I can’t.”
Cr Fisher asked Mr Pinfold a series of questions centering around if Mr Pinfold had received invitations to the airport committee meetings, citing emails with dates of correspondence from July 2013, asking if “you were invited to that meeting yes or no?” Mr Pinfold said he failed to see the relevance.
Mr Halliday said if Council paused the project to reassess there would be no contractual losses at this stage, but may mean deferring the next airshow, but said the timeframe for the airshow was already tight and it would be a mistake to drive commitment to a 20 year project by a single event. Mr Halliday said he believed there were too many ‘blue-sky’ assumptions supporting the income streams and the justification for the project had not been fully tested. He questioned the gate sales of the airshow growing from 10,000 to 20,000 and what risk mitigation was in place if an event was cancelled to cover the loss in revenue which services the debt of the project. Mr Halliday said he was not opposed to the project and hoped it would succeed, but said as it stands it lacks the “sanguine independent analysis” and needed to understand the risks and be confident there were strategies to manage what could be significant financial downsides.
Cr Collison highlighted a series of Council projects asking Mr Halliday if they were risky with words to the effect of, “to build the golf course – a risk! To build White Park – a risk! To build the saleyards – a risk! To construct a bypass – a risk!” Mr Halliday was confused by Cr Collison’s comments and said he was “not sure what you’re on about to be honest.”
Matthew Clark said he opposed the motion to have another review at such a late stage, describing it as “wrong”. Mr Clark highlighted that the Council had adopted the master plan in 2016 and there had been numerous opportunities, including no less than six airport committee meetings and in 2018 the Councillors had been briefed again, beffre voting for the plan to proceed to the detailed construction plan. Mr Clark said the project should be no surprise to the Councillors or the community. He said he believed any further reviews would come up with the same analysis and the plan had already been through adequate scrutiny over several years.
Cr Collison asked Mr Clark how many members were part of the aeroclub, to which Mr Clark said there were 100. Cr Collison asked Mr Clark how many of them were in favour of the airport project, to which he said “about 90 percent”.
Michael Johnsen MP
The member for Upper Hunter, Michael Johnsen also attended the meeting and in an unorthodox move spoke at the Council meeting, telling the Councillors to get to work. Read: Johnsen Tells Council to Get to Work.