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Anna Bay’s Helipad or Heliport – what’s the difference?

Anna Bay’s Helipad or Heliport – what’s the difference?

On Sunday 23 January, members of the Tomaree Ratepayers and Residents Association (TRRA) Committee attended a large public meeting next to the site of a proposed aircraft facility on Nelson Bay Road. Over 100 local citizens, including many with family members laid to rest at the adjacent Anna Bay cemetery, expressed their very strong objections to this proposal.5

A public meeting was held at Anna Bay Cemetery in January 2022.

Background

In May 2021, a development application (DA) was received by Port Stephens Council for an aircraft facility incorporating a helipad, dual occupancy and associated infrastructure including hangars, offices, carparking and civil works. The location is at 4136 Nelson Bay Road adjacent to a cemetery described on Port Stephens Council’s website as ‘Set in the quiet bushland, Anna Bay Lawn Cemetery is a peaceful place to remember loved ones.’

The Proponent states that the proposed facility would not be open to the public but is for the ‘private business operations of Soldiers Point and Nelson Bay Marinas, and associated members, guests and staff.’ These people would be transported between the marinas and the helipad for business trips or joyflights around Port Stephens and the Hunter region.

The reaction in the community was swift – disbelief and outrage that such a facility could be proposed next door to a cemetery. 80 submissions to the DA were recorded in July 20216. More recently, a slightly revised proposal addressing some of the issues raised by objectors and further clarification required by Port Stephens Council, was submitted by the proponent. Closing date for new or revised submissions was 26 January 2022.

EcoNetwork Port Stephens and the Tomaree Ratepayers and Residents Association (TRRA) each submitted detailed responses to both the original and the revised versions of this DA. EcoNetwork states that ‘nothing in the proponent’s responses with new or revised documents amending the DA, persuades us to change this view. Consent should not be granted.’ For instance, the changes include a proposal to reduce the number of daily flights from 70 to 65. This is irrelevant – any number would still make this a totally unacceptable enterprise at this location. The comprehensive submissions by EcoNetwork 1,2 and TRRA 3,4 can be found on this website and on TRRAs website.

Discrepancy or deception?

The DA describes this as a private helipad yet the scale of the proposed operation sounds more like a public heliport. Many private clubs, such as our local golf and bowls clubs, invite guests to sign in and pay for use of their ‘private’ facilities. This DA proposal is effectively enabling ‘public use’ yet claiming ‘private use’, presumably to comply with the zoning RU2 – Rural Landscape.

The noise assessment projections are incomplete and inadequate, claiming that the impact on nearby residences would be acceptable yet conceding that there are no standards or guidelines covering noise at cemeteries.

TRRA states ‘It is difficult to see how 280 movements per week with a daily cap of 65 could possibly peacefully co-exist with the cemetery which is less than 100 metres from the nearest landing pads. It is unreasonable and offensive to suggest that cemetery users could schedule their visits around notified helicopter flight times’. By the way – 280 total aircraft movements a week is the same as Newcastle Airport and over 1/3 that of our nation’s capital Canberra (pre-covid)!! 9

Each landing and takeoff may be relatively quick, but the noise of each approach and subsequent departure should also be considered in the noise assessment as well as the layover or turnaround time even if engines are idling. Noise issues are discussed in detail in the TRRA submission.

Many of our coastal communities will also be affected by these joyflights as once in the air, there is no guarantee that the flight path will, as indicated by the proponent, be in a southerly direction to avoid residences.  By seeking approval as a private helipad under RU2 zoning avoids the ability to regulate this flight path noise which will affect surrounding coastal communities and avoids the requirement for certification by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Impacts on wildlife

Photo © EcoNetwork Port Stephens

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) states that the operation is unlikely to have a significant impact on any locally occurring ecological communities, threatened flora, fauna or migratory species listed under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act or Commonwealth EPBC Act ‘due to the small area of impact proposed, managed nature of existing vegetation/habitats and large amount of similar vegetation, which would remain in the Study Area and wider surrounds.’

EcoNetwork disagrees given the number of flight movements (up to 65 per day) and the stress this would cause to wildlife. Reference is made to the paper The Impact of Helicopters on Blue Mountains Wildlife and other World Heritage Values compiled by the Blue Mountains Conservation Society. 7

The close proximity to bushland is a concern to the wellbeing of wildlife and their future survival in this vicinity. As helicopters are noisy when taking off and take some time to gain altitude, koalas will be impacted, especially as the main koala corridor is less than 200 metres away.

The flora and fauna assessment indicated that 65 threatened species or communities have previously been recorded or are modelled to occur within a 5km radius of the Study Area. 8

A curious point in the EIS is that if sedentary fauna species such as nesting birds or koalas are detected within the Study Area, ‘it is the responsibility of the helicopter pilot to contact an ecologist or suitably trained wildlife carer for advice’. Apparently, all flights should cease until the ecologist has inspected the site and either relocated the fauna species or determined that impacts are unlikely to occur.

How would it be possible or practical for a commercial venture to operate in this way? How are pilots to be informed about any nesting birds or koalas, let alone contact an ecologist to relocate it while the passengers are waiting!

What’s next?

EcoNetwork recommends that the proponent and their helipad (a heliport by any other name), should investigate the options available for such an enterprise at Williamtown Airport only 20 minutes away.

The decision now lies with Port Stephens Council. Please keep this conversation going – and if you haven’t already, contact the Mayor and your local Councillor.

References

  1. EcoNetwork’s original July 2021 submission
  2. EcoNetwork’s second submission January 2022.
  3. TRRA Objection – DA 16-2021-387-1 – 4136 Nelson Bay Rd, Anna Bay – Proposed Aircraft facility
  4. TRRA: Proposed Helicopter Base at Anna Bay
  5. Port Stephens Examiner – 20-jan-2022 – Proposed helipad meeting at Anna Bay this Sunday
  6. All submissions from local residents and groups are available on Port Stephens Council DA Tracker
  7. The Impact of Helicopters on Blue Mountains Wildlife and other World Heritage Values. Blue Mountains Conservation Society
  8. Kleinfelder’s Flora and Fauna Assessment Report.
  9. Australian Government Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics – Airport Traffic Data