Blue Mountains City Council is investigating new options to fight a Penrith helipad plan after the Independent Planning Commission gave conditional approval to the proposal on August 3.
Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill has asked council staff "to urgently advise councillors of possible next steps" following the decision.
"Our view remains that this is a heliport, which we believe is prohibited at Penrith Lakes, and not a helipad," said the mayor
"We feel the facility's use by joy flights has the potential to impact on the amenity of the Blue Mountains, the eastern escarpment and the values of the World Heritage National Park."
But the managing director of the company behind the plan has rejected these fears in a detailed statement, saying the proposal won't detrimentally impact the Blue Mountains.
Under the approval, Sydney Helicopters will be required to comply with reduced hours of operation and flights, stick to an annual cap of helicopter movements, and limit take-off and landing activities to reduce noise impacts.
The two-member commission panel, comprising Chris Wilson and Dr Sheridan Coakes, granted development consent to the project, subject to 94 conditions.
The company had sought approval for operating hours from 5.30am to 10pm but the commission has limited general operating hours to 7am to 10pm with a limited number of movements between sunset and 10pm (excluding emergency services operations).
The operator will also be required to prepare a communication consultation strategy with key stakeholders for the life of the development.
"These conditions are designed to prevent, minimise and/or offset adverse social and environmental impacts, and ensure ongoing monitoring and appropriate environmental management of the development," said panel chair, Chris Wilson.
The Blue Mountains Conservation Society has joined the mayor in expressing disappointment at the approval.
"The society made a submission raising concerns with this proposal, specifically the possible negative impacts on the nearby Blue Mountains World Heritage Area," said president Madi Maclean.
"This included the potential for increased joy and scenic flights from the new helicopter centre, resulting in detrimental impacts on native fauna and visitor experience and enjoyment.
"The approval emphasises federal regulations to control aircraft movements, including voluntary fly neighbourly agreements to manage low flying aircraft over environmentally sensitive areas. It is the society's experience that these type of voluntary agreements are woefully inadequate and ineffective in regulating inappropriate low flying joy or scenic flights over areas such as national parks.
"The society is also concerned that approving this development could lead to existing low key helipads becoming more intensive commercial helicopter operations in future."
But the managing director of Sydney Helicopters, Mark Harrold, said they "will not detrimentally impact the Blue Mountains".
"The ability for us or any other aircraft operator to fly over or near to the Blue Mountains is the same whether located in Penrith, Rosehill, Camden, Sydney, Bankstown, or anywhere else for that matter," he said in a statement.
"Airspace regulations dictate where people can fly. There are minimum altitudes that must be adhered to. It is my understanding that National Parks and Wildlife determine the scenic helicopter routes around the Park and those flights cannot be performed at low level.
"We have had the number of flights we can perform from our private helipad capped at an average of two per day unlike operators located elsewhere who are unlimited. The flights we are permitted to conduct must therefore be shared across many clientele wanting different destinations and experiences."
Mr Harrold said the company regularly engaged by Water NSW, NSW RFS and NPWS to undertake water and land management tasks within the Blue Mountains National Park to ensure the safety of drinking water supplies, walking tracks and minimize the threat of bushfire through aerial hazard reduction.
"It is important to understand that our Air Transport operations provide a revenue stream that allows us to support the permanent employment of experienced and skilled aircrew. It is these aircrew that respond immediately to bushfires and floods which are becoming more frequent with the onset of climate change," he said.
"Over the years we have often been the only helicopter fire fighting operator able to respond immediately to fires in the Blue Mountains outside the normal fire season, particularly during the months of August to October. As a direct benefit of our air transport operations we will now be able to offer an even more rapid response to the threat of bushfire in the Blue Mountains. In addition, two of our nationally contracted aerial waterbombing helicopters will be based at our helipad with the specific task of protecting the Blue Mountains communities.
"We look forward to being of service to the communities of the Blue Mountains and Western Sydney."
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