Lease on Katoomba airfield knocked back, community celebrates

A hard fought grass roots community effort saved Katoomba Airfield from commercialisation.

But campaigners also admitted they needed big guns and deep pockets to fight the project with Megalong Valley Community and Landowners Association president and a spokesman for the Katoomba Airfield Community Group Max Horn, getting his own small community to kick in $7000 to "hire a lobbyist". In the end they had three meetings with senior ministerial advisors to the NSW government, he said.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment knocked back Flyblue's lease application for Medlow Bath airfield earlier this month after "overwhelming community opposition".

Mr Horn said the community cited safety concerns with the short airstrip, potential net negative economic impact on the Mountains, impact on the valley, difficulty in limiting the number of flights, damage to the bushwalking experience that would be "spoilt by helicopter traffic flying overhead", better alternatives, and much more.

"The community is thrilled the heliport is off the table," Mr Horn said. "I'm hopeful the inability to run the helitourism ...makes commercialisation of the airfield uneconomic."

"There is a small percentage of the population who has the money who can pay for helicopters - why should one per cent spoil the experience for the other 99 per cent."

The lease was exhibited for eight weeks and attracted 1,582 submissions, with more than 85 per cent opposing it and only 13 per cent in support or offering conditional support. Noise was a key issue. Blue Mountains Council also opposed the commercialisation and the issue was also debated in NSW Parliament after residents gathered more than 12,000 signatures opposing the plans.

The group, including Blue Mountains Peacekeepers, Blue Mountains Conservation Society, the Katoomba Airfield Community Group and Cr Kerry Brown, celebrated in the rain and mist in the Upper Mountains last week.

Cr Brown said it was the "right decision in support of overwhelming community opposition".

"We have just experienced unprecedented bushfire devastation that threatens the survival of species and ecosystems. There is a collective grief. The last thing needed by us or the wildlife is the daily flap of helicopters. We welcome them for fire and rescue but not as a backdrop to our lives."

A Conservation Society spokeswoman said they were "very pleased".

"The Society, along with thousands of community members, has been deeply concerned the proposal would result in negative impacts on the surrounding world heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park. This included noise and disturbance to native wildlife, as well as negative impacts on visitors. The Society now asks the government to fulfil its previous commitment to incorporate the site into the national park, while maintaining it for emergency uses such as bushfire fighting."

The applicant's interim licence ends on February 28 and a new interim licence will be issued stopping helicopter flights. The airfield will remain open to emergency services. FlyBlue has chosen not to comment.

Mr Horn said some members of the group also had concerns about the raising of the Warragamba Dam wall and the Western Sydney Airport but had chosen to concentrate their efforts on the Medlow airfield issue.