Coffs Harbour Regional Airport is now being handed over to a private company, who remains confidential at this stage.
Coffs Harbour Regional Airport is now being handed over to a private company, who remains confidential at this stage.

‘Let’s get on with it’: Council votes to privatise airport

THE management of Coffs Harbour Regional Airport will officially be placed into the hands of a private company under a long-term lease.

Coffs Harbour City Councillors last night debated for nearly an hour before coming to a tied vote on executing the controversial airport lease.

An exasperated Michael Adendorff had told his fellow councillors they were experiencing 'analysis paralysis' before urging them to move on.

"This is not about mum or dad flying to Sydney - this is about serious business," he said.

"This is about the future of this town, not whether you're paying more or less parking fees. Let's just get on with it, please."

It has been more than three years since the airport lease process first began, with a succession of decisions by councillors having led up to the ultimate vote last night.

“Let’s just get on with it,” Cr Michael Adendorff said during the debate.
“Let’s just get on with it,” Cr Michael Adendorff said during the debate.

The details of the lease - including who the lessee is - has been bound by confidentiality, which has proven contentious among some councillors and the public.

Councillors were last night split on whether to execute the lease with some arguing council was best placed to operate the public asset, while others said the airport would not prosper particularly after COVID-19 without the experience and investment from the private lessee.

The lessee, who still remains confidential at this stage, will take over both the airport and Enterprise Park development.

Cr George Cecato, who was a tenant at the airport for several years, urged councillors to vote in favour of the lease.

He revealed former long-term airport manager Dennis Martin had sent councillors an email prior to the meeting which contained four pages on why they should do so.

Cr George Cecato has been a staunch supporter of the airport lease.
Cr George Cecato has been a staunch supporter of the airport lease.

Mr Martin had held the position under contract with the council since 2008, before retiring last year.

He had taken over the management with a view to establish it as a stand-alone business, with revenue more than doubling during his time in the position.

Cr Cecato further revealed the interim subcontractor manager, Glenn Robinson, had also "strongly suggested" the lease, expressing concerns for the airport in the next 5-10 years due to COVID-19.

"It's time to make a decision, it's time to look at the future and take the airport to the next level - the lease will allow us to do exactly that," Cr Cecato said.

Cr Sally Townley, against the airport lease, argued that privatisation would see prices rise for the travelling public.

She also shared concerns that handing over the development of the Enterprise Park at this 'midway' point would see council suffer a loss.

Cr Sally Townley argued that the need for accessible travel for the public should be prioritised.
Cr Sally Townley argued that the need for accessible travel for the public should be prioritised.

"What we have at the moment is a transport hub which gives affordable air travel - and accessible air travel - to tens of thousands of people in the region.

"I don't think you'd find an example of an airport anywhere which became cheaper after privatisation.

"Prices are going to escalate because the investor's responsibility is to their shareholders, whereas council's responsibility is to ratepayers and also the travelling public to create a transport hub all people can use."

After some debate, the lease execution was put to the vote with councillors Adendorff, Keith Rhoades, Denise Knight and Cecato voting in favour, while Townley, Paul Amos, John Arkan and Tegan Swan voted against.

Mayor Cr Knight's casting vote brought it over the line.

Details including who the lessee is, and how long it will be for, will soon be made public with the lessee now working with council to develop a communications strategy.