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City helipad decision could chop Haese's voter base

Opinion

Lord Mayor Martin Haese's support for a helipad in the park lands could damage his chances of re-election, argues city councillor Phil Martin.

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My hearing isn’t great, but last week I think I heard scratching in the ground of a battleline in next year’s race for the top job in the City of Adelaide.

It came from that grassed area in the park lands west of the Morphett Street bridge just near the railway lines; the old railway shunting yards where a majority of council will almost certainly agree tomorrow night to site the Adelaide CBD’s first, permanent helipad.

And hey, it’s about time we had one of those! Melbourne’s got one, why shouldn’t we?

I’ve never really embraced “me-tooism”, but it’s one of those simple propositions that often gets media traction. This helicopter landing site is way more interesting.

First conceived in council in 2014 by Stephen Yarwood and then rebirthed by my councillor colleague Houssam Abiad in 2015, Martin Haese has adopted the baby as though it were his own.

In public or private, the presiding officer of the Adelaide City Council and the Adelaide Park Lands Authority (APLA) has left no-one in doubt this is a favoured child.

The council bureaucracy he indirectly influences has been going “goo goo gaga” as well, declaring the location for the passengers of Harry the Helicopter (my apologies to the author of Thomas the Tank Engine) will lead to “memorable and meaningful” views of the Adelaide park lands.

However, a public consultation last month into the suitability of the site showed “park lands aware South Australians (as one who responded told me) …. just don’t buy it”.

And they didn’t buy it in a big way. Of the 51 submissions, more than 80 per cent of them gave it the big thumbs down.

They objected to a lot, including the consultation. They believed the council gave them too little detail to provide informed comment. The proposed site, marked only by an “X”,  contained no dimensions. Nothing about buildings. Quiet on fencing. No safety issues canvassed. Zip on operating hours. Missing explanations of flight paths. No assessment of impacts on flora and fauna. Devoid of expected noise levels or proposed mitigation measures. Lease conditions not stated. Same for credentials of the lease-holder.

People who responded to the consultation also supported what the council administration labelled “a principled position” of park lands amenity and access rather than what the administration describes as “the specifics of the commercial helipad proposal” (see paragraph above for details of commercial proposal).

Some APLA members meeting on Thursday night to consider the feedback also sought to diminish the value of the consultation by suggesting that 50 was too small a number of submissions to matter in the scheme of things, overlooking the submissions of organisations who have memberships in the hundreds and social media networks of thousands.

And the Lord Mayor, I thought not unexpectedly, helpfully pointed out to authority members this proposed site was “the least used piece of park lands”.

“Generally bankrupt of logic,” was how one ratepayer described to me the process thus far. His will to live was finally sapped by Thursday night’s agenda papers in which the council administration demonstrated fancy footwork around what’s known as the Community Land Management Plan (CLMP) for the site.

Every bit of park land is covered by a CLMP which, after a mandatory public consultation, details how the land can be used. The CLMP for the site in question does not include a home for helicopters.

But the bureaucracy has proposed (watch the pea under the thimble) that if the proposal for the helipad is supported “a subsequent amendment to the CLMP will be made to reflect this land use and tenure, noting this amendment has been informed by public consultation”  (the same consultation which overwhelmingly rejected the proposal).

The proposed helipad site, as identified in APLA papers.

Who can blame “the public” for feeling they’ve been shortchanged? I can certainly sympathise with that view. Worse still, you can imagine inevitable speculation that there is more to this than meets the eye (as far as I can tell, there isn’t). Indeed, councillors behaved so scrupulously in the process behind closed doors that, at various times, a number of them declared a perception of a conflict of interest and absented themselves from the discussion.

But there are fundamental issues at play here about which we can be legitimately concerned. They are that “principle” thing (of public space for public benefit and not for private profit) and park lands amenity – the lost opportunity to enjoy their relative tranquillity.

And as you would expect me to say, then there are the rights of the residents of North Adelaide. Already daily burdened with often unacceptable noise from dozens of fixed wing aircraft, including aging jumbos, as well as freight rattlers, most of us are happy to hear the rescue helicopter thundering above our roofs on the way to the RAH knowing that a life in the balance is in the best possible care.

An assortment of other choppers shaking the rafters everyday between the proposed operating hours of 6am and 11pm on 10-minute joy rides over the park lands, tourist jaunts to the Barossa or Kangaroo Island, wealthy arrivals at Adelaide Airport desperate to save a taxi fare and five minutes on the ride to the city, media missions to news spots or even, potentially, fast freight deliveries, will be altogether different.

North Adelaide constituents are generally acknowledged to have given Martin Haese the leg up he needed to win the Lord Mayoralty. Up to now, he’s loved them and I think he’s hoping they’ll love him back into a second term.

Yet I wouldn’t be surprised to see a canny opponent try to spin into an election issue his unequivocal support for what may well become their daily irritation.

The last thing Martin needs between now and next year’s poll is North Adelaide muttering “bloody Haese” under its collective breath every time one of his progeny rumbles overhead.

Phil Martin is a North Ward councillor on the Adelaide City Council.

 

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