Affordable air travel at Coffs Harbour
Affordable air travel at Coffs Harbour "should be protected”, Cr Sally Townley said. Trevor Veale

Lone councillor opposes airport privatisation

A COUNCILLOR has stated her opposition on plans to privatise Coffs Harbour airport, saying public ownership over the asset "should be protected”.

Cr Sally Townley was the only councillor to vote against a confidential recommendation at last night's meeting that saw a contractor appointed to prepare and manage a long-term lease for the airport.

The chosen company at this stage remains confidential.

This would be the first time the council-owned airport would be placed into the hands of a private operator, and Cr Townley said she was concerned this could see prices rise for airport users.

"I just can't bring myself to get behind the leasing idea,” Cr Townley said.

"It's a fantastic airport, we are so lucky to have it. There wouldn't be many regional communities our size that has access to affordable air travel and I think that should be protected.”

The council was recently given $10 million in Federal funding to put towards developing the Enterprise Park - an industrial estate earmarked for the land surrounding the airport.

Cr Townley said she believed the council would be better placed to oversee the development, rather than a private company.

"Tying it together with the development of the ancillary land, I still maintain we would be better doing that ourselves, with the airport in public ownership. We got a windfall of funding recently to go towards it.

"I think the reasoning behind the contractor selection is sound but I just honestly feel that it's best maintaining this fantastic asset in our public ownership now and into the future.”

Cr George Cecato however urged his fellow councillors to support the privatisation.

In the hands of a private operator international flights could become a reality, bringing with it a major boost to the local agricultural export and tourism economies.

"This is the next step to bring the airport into the future. This step is vital,” Cr Cecato said.

Following last night's decision, the chosen contractor will act as an expert adviser to council, and assist with establishing the lease.

An Expression of Interest for the lease will soon be put out to the market. After this is done, the council will be given the option to pull out of the entire process.