Batemans Bay relegated to having a fourth rate emergency helipad for no good reason at all

Dear Beagle Editor,

Your readers may have noticed that patients transferring by helicopter to and from the Batemans Bay Hospital now have a fair distance to travel by road because the purpose built helipad next to the marina has been usurped by the Sydney developers. The redevelopment, approved by the Council, set out in 2014 provides very clear terms for a safety zone around the helipad to meet the Australian Standards. It is understood that these conditions were not complied with as aviators reported encroachments into the zone with material on and adjacent to the zone that could become airborne.

Above: part of the Notice to applicant dated 17th June, 2014 of DA 316/14

In 2015 Council announced, with no public consultation, that it would decommission the fully functioning purpose built emergency services helipad with night lights and temporarily relocate the operation to the Mackay Park playing field.

Above: From Council's 2015 report "Manage Council property to achieve best value to the community".... if the best value is to remove it without any justification and then have ratepayers and taxpayers build a new one.

In Council's 2015 report it didn't say a single thing that justified the decision to decommision the helipad - all it said was EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Redevelopment of the Batemans Bay Marina in accordance with the conditions of the lease granted by the Crown to Batemans Bay Marina Development Pty Limited has resulted in the cessation of emergency helicopter operations and critical patient transfers from Batemans Bay Hospital using the existing Helipad in Spinnaker Reach Reserve, Batemans Bay. There is now the immediate need to secure a permanent new site. The conditions of the lease required compliance to ENSURE the helipad remained operative. So what changed? At no point has there ever been any public discussion about the need to relocate the helipad as part of the marina redevelopment. It is on the record that this motion was moved by Councillor Innes.

Those members of the community who are aware of the issue are more than concerned that there has not been any discussion of a town helipad since, even though at the October 2015 Council meeting they identified that "The provision of a helipad is paramount to the local community for ongoing emergency rescue operations and critical patient transfers from Batemans Bay Hospital. Community consultation is essential."

The Health Minister, recently responding to a local resident asking why the new Toll Ambulance helicopter was not using this helipad wrote (in part):

In 2015 the Marina received approval to redevelop the Batemans Bay Marina. Meetings between Council. NSW Ambulance and the Local Health District, confirmed at the time, that the helipad would be unsuitable for operations at the completion of the marina redevelopment.

The Minister stated that: "In consultation with Council, the helicopter landing site was relocated to Mackay Park in November 2015".

"Local Health District remains in contact with the Eurobodalla Council to look for opportunities to establish a standalone helicopter landing site should a suitable site become available." The response from the Minister failed to reference the requirement of the Minister of Lands to first endorse a variation (as recommended by Eurobodalla Council in October 2015 - see below) to a reserve classification that would see a new helipad able to be established just 50 metres away from the current location. So what is the current status of Batemans Bay's emergency helipad at the Marina - is it open or closed? On the 28/04/2017 Bankstown Operations made the following comment on Pad is closed (old pad). Mackay Park is the new landing pad (1KM West) Mackay Park has temporary fencing blocking the south east corner. Recommend land in centre of oval with rear wheels on concrete cricket pitch. - Safety Risk YES An early comment ( 23/11/2015) on the said: Due to works on an adjacent marina, this landing site is not available. Alternate landings at Mackay Park ovals (1km W) day & night or Hanging Rock ovals (1km SE) for day use only. However Batemans Bay Marina promote on their website the heipad is OPEN under their management and there were helitours conducted from this "decommisioned" helipad over summer. It is more than evident that the helipad on Beach Road as become a facility for the Marina by their own website that says: Car park & helipad Parking is available on-site for approximately 95 vehicles and our helipad is available for private use. Should you wish to use the helipad, please contact us to make a booking.

Above: An umbrella being drawn into rotor blades is a major operational concern and presents high risk to EMS.

It was noted over summer that a Canberra helicopter company was running Clyde River joy flights from this now "private" helipad. By their website announcement it looks like the Batemans Bay Marina has inherited itself a fully functioning, state of the art helipad and now the taxpayer will have to fork out for a new one if land can be found. According to the website the original helipad now located inside the Marina development was: Identified as: YXBM State: New South Wales City / Town: Batemans Bay Description: Large clear area with concrete HLS on the southern bank of the Clyde River on Beach Road. Surface: Concrete Windcone: Yes Fuel: Moruya Airport

Lighting Available:Yes - Manually switched. Notify ETA to MRU

An experienced helicopter pilot who used the marina helipad during many patient and rescue operations was asked his opinion. This is his reply (in part):

The average Emergency Medical Service (EMS) helicopter creates enormous downwash and nearby structures can suffer a real battering, with the very real risk of debris blowing up and either going through the rotor or hitting someone.

EMS operators are being denied what was one of the best pads in the local area, thanks to its proximity to the river, which provides an excellent lead-in (especially at night and in poor weather), and a very easy departure over-water which means not overflying residential areas. It is ideally situated only a few minutes from the hospital as well, making transfers relatively quick and easy.

Operations to ovals inevitably lead to a clash between missions and sporting activities, with a requirement to clear the landing ground of players or spectators who have to remain clear for as long as the aircraft is on the ground, sometimes for hours. (I recall our having to perform CPR on a patient one day, with scores of kids from Saturday morning footy looking on in horror as the man died.) Ovals are less desirable anyway because they are often ringed by trees and have other obstacles like club houses and very tall lighting installations around the perimeter. Unless a purpose-built pad, meeting all the relevant regulations, has been built elsewhere in BTB, preferably closer to the hospital, then the riverside pad is the very best available. I am shocked that any council could sit back and see locals and the thousands of visitors to BTB, denied access to the EMS services this helipad is purpose designed for and offered an unlit grass playing field instead.

Members of the community are asking how it came to be that the redevelopment of the marina has seen a state of the art, community owned, emergency helipad stealthfully absorbed into a privately managed marina precinct leaving the general public to use a temporary playing field. Why weren't the safety zones that were very clearly defined in the 2014 DA compliance enforced by the Council? And how is it that the helipad at the redevelopment site is now being used by private operators?

If Council knew in 2015 that the helipad would never be used again why has it taken so long to replace it with a quality facility rather than continuing to use a temporary option?

NSW Ambulance Operation has advised members of the community that a new purpose built helipad would cost between $200,000 to $300,000 and that no suitable site has been formally proposed. The question remains as to why we, the taxpayer and the ratepayer have to pay for a new helipad when the community already owns the best helipad on the coast waiting to be used again? For those who like to know the background, and hopefully that includes our new councillors who need to take note that something well and truely is on the nose here: In the report to the October 27th, 2015 Eurobodalla Council meeting a report about the helipad on Beach Road stated:

Redevelopment of the Batemans Bay Marina in accordance with the conditions of the lease granted by the Crown to Batemans Bay Marina Development Pty Limited has resulted in the cessation of emergency helicopter operations and critical patient transfers from Batemans Bay Hospital using the existing Helipad in Spinnaker Reach Reserve, Batemans Bay. There is now the immediate need to secure a permanent new site. Operations are temporarily being undertaken at Mackay Park or alternatively Hanging Rock Reserve, however, neither of these reserves is suitable for a permanent location. Southern NSW Local Health District which is responsible for the helipad is seeking to secure a new permanent helipad site as soon as practicable.An alternate site has been identified within Spinnaker Reach Reserve but whilst Council as an approvals authority can approve a DA for a new facility, Council as Trust Manager for the Eurobodalla (North) Reserve Trust controlling the reserve cannot consent to a licence for the proposed new facility. It will require the Minister administering the Crown Lands Act 1989 to grant a licence under the provisions of the Crown Lands Act. This report recommends Council as Trust Manager for the Eurobodalla (North) Reserve Trust support the relocation of the helipad and the granting of a long term licence to Southern NSW Local Health District over the new site by the Minister administering the Crown Lands Act 1989. Due to the requirements for this type of facility -proximity to the hospital, set back from residential development and clearance specifications surrounding the helipad, there are limited areas available. The uncertainty of timing of its use and the need for its ‘immediate’ use make sporting areas such as Mackay Park and Hanging Rock Reserve unsuitable as a permanent solution. Spinnaker Reach Reserve is a passive recreation park and an alternate site west of the existing helipad is considered the most appropriate site. Whilst it would affect different residents, the proposed site is no closer to residential development than the existing facility. A plan showing the relationship between the existing facility, the proposed site and the hospital is below.

The provision of a helipad is paramount to the local community for ongoing emergency rescue operations and critical patient transfers from Batemans Bay Hospital to specialist hospitals in Canberra, Sydney and Wollongong. Southern NSW Local Health District will be required to lodge a DA for the new facility and enter into a licence agreement directly with Crown Lands. Community consultation for the proposed new facility will be undertaken as part of the DA process. All costs associated with the establishment of a new helipad facility will be the responsibility of Southern NSW Local Health District. Reading between all the lines it would appear that: -In 2014 Council clearly advised the developers to keep clear of the helipad . -They didn't and pilots pulled the pin because of non-compliance. -Council announced it would decommission the helipad in 2015 and establish a temporary solution advising that a comparable site was available just 50m from the existing site that required a Ministerial sign off to a technicality in classification of the reserve. -The project, costs and development application rests with Southern Health and to date everyone involved have done stuff all. In the meantime if a helicopter lands on Mackay Oval during heavy rains the likelihood of an emergency vehicle accessing the aircraft is reduced to the point where it might put patients and rescue personnel at risk. Furthermore traffic jams as a result of the bridge opening compound the problem. The public's safety is being compromised. There are many other questions over the Marina redevelopment that Council should answer. Hopefully changes will be made after the Minister of Lands completes his review of a non-compliance report now in his possession. Name and address supplied and withheld on request

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