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Thames Airfield (3)

The saga of Thames Airfield development is threatening to grow into a 'major'. Catch up with my posts on 13 May, 11 June and 4 September for background.

On the one hand there is the Airfield User Group, that represents the 20 odd users, commercial and private at the Airfield that has for years been the means by which TCDC, and the TCB in particular have kept in touch, and needs reviewed. The Airfield is subsidized by rate-payers currently by about $30,000 -  this is the amount by which expenses exceed income, comprising landing fees and hay sales.

Ratepayer surveys have consistently rated airports at the bottom of their Council priorities, and this is understandable in terms of the benefits most appear to obtain compared to the actual users. But Council appears to assume that most rate-payers quite like to have airport facilities nevertheless, and have a mostly benevolent attitude towards their operation, as long as those who use them keep their demands within reason. It would help if in addition, they were prepared to put their hands in their collective pockets to help fund 'improvements'. Unfortunately, such is not the case - Commercial operators in particular have proved to be a demanding bunch who expect a level of service over and beyond that which normal rate-payers obtain from Council.

Drainage has been a problem forever and a day following heavy rain, and this often interferes with operations. "Too bad", should be the reply - "if you don't like it, contribute, or take your operation elsewhere". Recently, one operator had the nerve to write to Civil Aviation requesting action against the Council to ensure a runway upgrade. A DCA inspection took place after which he was advised that the runway was fine, and if it wasn't for any reason at any time (say, following rain) then he must cease operation. Round one to the Council.

But a recent meeting of the User Group has nevertheless requested the Council undertake drainage works to ensure that the"airfield is serviceable at all times". The TCB succumbed at its 17 October meeting and asked Council to approve an allocation of $16,960 for the purpose from its Consolidated Retained Earnings Account. It declined at this stage to undertake basic infrastructure (water, sewerage, electricity and roading) also requested by the User Group. The Group offered no contribution to this activity, so expect this year's subsidy to exceed $50,000. 

Of greater concern is the developing tangle between the User Group on the one hand, and Mr Geoff Furkett on the other, who has approached the Board previously with a vague  proposal to "takeover operational management of the Airfield". The User Group appears adamantly opposed to this proposal, and staff recommended that no change to the current  Airport Master Plan that was developed some years ago, be undertaken. It further recommended that no further action be undertaken in regard to alternative management or options for further development until Mr Furkett has presented his proposal.

This 'status quo' was totally unacceptable to the Chair, who appears to already have had discussions with Mr Furkert, and assured him of his support in getting the development proposal to the table. Both the Chair, and BM Yates (the TCB representative on the User Group) appear to be of one in regard to entering into a formal arrangement with Mr Furkert to enable him to proceed. But staff and other members were not happy with this as it implied that Mr Furkett would in effect be employed as a consultant, which is contrary to Council established processes. This hairy arrangement bit the dust, but Cr. French nevertheless wanted a '"formal proposal".  Chair Strat indicated that this could not be prepared by his friend, Mr Furkert, until Council had given him some assurance "that he would not be wasting his time, because he is a very busy professional".

The Chair continued to reiterate that he was not prepared to allow the 'status quo' to continue, because to do so would mean "standing still, and that would mean going backwards".

I am not sure I know what happened then - the discussion appeared to fade out as do so many discussions in this forum, so I have no idea what was decided other than to spend $16,960 on drainage. A close examination of the Minutes is warranted as they often appear to be a moveable feast, with a temporary secretary grappling with confusing direction from the Chair. But I think Mr Furkert will be waiting a while before he gets the assurances that he appears to be seeking, and that will no doubt please the User Group, who I don't think want anything approaching 'commercial' in terms of the operation of this airfield.

It is disturbing to note that at some point during the discussion, Chair Strat mentioned the figure of $600,000 as being required to undertake the basic infrastructure upgrades. This figure must have come out of one of the Workshops that Board has had with the User Group. Staff indicated that any infrastructure expenditure required to be undertaken by the Board would need to be accommodated in the Ten Year Plan that was in the final stages of development. There did not appear to be any stomach for having to argue that allocation through the Council, but members still appeared willing to accommodate the User Group in any way it could.

There are a number of small town relationships associated with these confusing proposals, and this is something all rate-payers need to watch, just in case it gets away on them, and they find themselves saddled with a headache. There are some grand proposals out there for a major airport development, but at this stage, no-one other the Council fits the funding role. Beware!

Perhaps, since it is such a valuable asset as we have been repeatedly told, it should be put up for sale, and then let the cards fall where they may. Sir Keith Park Memorial Airport Ltd. has a nice ring to it - get the name registered, and you're half way there!




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Reader Comments (1)

Once again the Thames ratepayers are being battened on to supply money for the private recreational and business growth of individuals who see profit for themselves in using a public facility and ratepayer funds. The ratepayers have been subsidising the airfield for decades and the users who could solve the drainage problem themselves (after all they cause it) are expecting a handout. Which apparently they've managed. Shame on Board members for being manipulated by the chair with his predetermination. This is the airfield that borrowed $500,000 from the TUGPRA and was supposed to pay it back from increased landing fees and more commercial leases. The addressing of this internal loan has fallen into one of those black holes in TCDC. Certainly no-one in staff or Board member wants to publicly acknowledge the loan or the airfield accounts.

October 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeter H Wood.

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