By Helen Tatchell
Rumours are flying on the airwaves that Moorabool Shire Council is considering selling the Bacchus Marsh aerodrome.
Is it fact or fiction? Both the Moorabool Mayor Cr Paul Tatchell and East Ward councillor John Keogh deny the allegations.
“The rumour is totally wrong, if council wanted to sell they have to go through a strict procedure for selling council property.
“Council haven’t been asked the question and there is a report coming to council from officers in June or July that will probably clarify the situation,” Cr Keogh said.
Cr. Keogh is a general committee person on the Bacchus Marsh aerodrome committee of management and has been since he was elected in 2016, taking over from another East Ward councillor Dave Edwards.
Another issue causing uncertainty for the user groups at the aerodrome is the lease.
It was signed over to Moorabool Shire council in 1992 from the Federal Government and the current lease in place is for 25-years plus 25-years.
Cr. Keogh said the commonwealth ‘gifted’ the airport to council on the proviso it was kept open for general aviation.
“Even if we were considering selling we must obtain permission from the federal government; we must have permission. It must also be open for general aviation. It cannot be sold to a developer for those reasons.”
TVSA Pilot Training part-owner and CEO Daniel Pearson said in a radio interview to ABC Ballarat, there was too much uncertainty about the lease.
“Council have not signed the lease, and this is causing a lot of the users and airport operators a lot of angst. It is about moving forward and allowing us to get on with running the business really.
“We train commercial pilots from really no experience to reach their commercial license, allowing them to go and earn money in the industry and obviously the goal of any of our students is to go and work for the airlines,” he said.
Mr Pearson went on to say that he believes council are still reviewing their options and that they are unhappy with the level of management that currently exists at the airport.
“They want to see the facility developed and grow into a much bigger asset, which I don’t think anyone is disagreeing with. There are a lot of rumours around on what they are planning on doing with the site.”
Mr Pearson has plans to expand his operation and just four weeks ago submitted an application for the expansion to council.
“It is not a small investment, it’s in the tens of millions of dollars. We are talking upwards of training 100 pilots every year and employing upwards of 60-80 people. We have a fairly large contract that we’ve managed to land which allows us to do some international training.
“I’d love to see the place go ahead in leaps and bounds but at this stage we have to consider other options and locations because we don’t have the certainty moving forward about our long-term position.”
Mr Pearson said he is just shocked at how little support the council is giving and how much of a blind eye they are turning to this problem.
Mayor Cr Paul Tatchell responded to the claims and rumours.
“We only received an application from Mr Pearson, who has a sub-lease to the committee, on 20 April to expand the flying school. There is no business case for this yet, all we have is an application to expand and because we have to take into consideration all the other user groups down there, the gliding club, the private people with their own planes, the hanger space, it is not as simple as just stamping the paperwork.
“Basically, the committee of management run it for council, so any lease would have to go through them,” he said.
Allegations of council spending $167,000 on legal advice to not re-sign the lease, Cr Tatchell said were a ‘load of rubbish’.
“By the time the lease is sorted out there may be a cost of $20,000-$30,000 to make sure we have all the requirements of council and of the committees, and of the different user groups, so the lease makes it future proof.
“Ultimately the only thing we have in front of us is an application to expand the flying school in the middle of the renewal of the lease,” Cr Tatchell concluded.