City of Ballarat officers will recommend councillors approve the north-south extension of the Ballarat Airport runway and the appointment of a new board of management in a report to be presented on June 23.
CEO Evan King announced the officer's position on the report at a media conference on Thursday afternoon at the aerodrome, saying while the initial council investment of $5 million would be committed if councillors approved, the entire project, estimated to be anywhere between $32 and $37 million, relied on future federal government funding.
The City of Ballarat's business case, prepared for the initial application for the Regional Airports Program grant of $5 million, clearly stated: "The project has been costed to give certainty that this overall project budget of $10M can deliver this runway to a length of 1,980 metres."
"That business case recommended that it was a worthwhile investment," Mr King said yesterday.
"We've gone away to do some further work to make sure that that investment is truly good value for the ratepayers... we've had a options paper done that's had a look at a whole range of components relating to the airport."
However the report's authors, Brunswick firm Urban Enterprise, also cautioned, "Airports typically do not operate on a 'build it and they will come approach'. As such, the opportunities included in this report should be viewed as aspirational... further investigation is required to confirm the feasibility of the project."
The plan's acceptance was moved by former councillor Grant Tillett and seconded by Cr Samantha McIntosh.
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When questioned about the financial viability of the extension, Mr King said the ability to land larger planes for servicing would assist current businesses at the airfield, while a new, 'commercially focussed' board of management would help develop future plans.
"With a professional board in place, we believe that there will be benefit to the ratepayer in leveraging the benefits of a longer runway," Mr King said.
"The airport as it stands at the moment generates significant economic benefit and employment to the Ballarat community already. The extension will only further enhance that. And then it will really be further conversation happening later on to determine whether further investment is value for money for the ratepayers."
The airport itself runs at a significant loss to the City of Ballarat, and is subsidised by ratepayers to the amount of $150,000 a year.
Before any work could begin, the plan requires a lengthening of Liberator Drive in BWEZ, which Mr King said was being negotiated with Development Victoria and would cost between $2 million and $14 million. This amount would need to be spent, and the road completed, before any runway grant money could be used.
Mr King said the state government was always going to build Liberator Drive; however he said the City of Ballarat has asked for the construction to be brought forward. It's understood negotiations are underway as to who will pay for the road, which needs to be extended further to give vehicle access so Airport Road can be decommissioned.
"The other part that is worth understanding is as BWEZ develops and industry moves there, is the interrelationship between BWEZ and the airport is really important. It is an attraction to businesses looking to move to BWEZ to have an airport so intrinsically linked to BWEZ and so close for their businesses," Mr King said.
Several current and former councillors expressed reservations about the transparency of the original business plan when it was first presented, with Cr Amy Johnson noting "serious reservations about applying" and Cr Daniel Moloney saying he held "big concerns".
"The costs to council need to be better articulated," Cr Moloney said at the time.
"It risks being a very narrow benefit to very select businesses."
In a public submission at the time former mayor John Barnes also warned the officer report was lacking in detail.
He said there was a "huge gap" between the consultants' analysis and the officer report and suggested councillors amend the recommendation to include a report on the full costs of delivering the project.
At the time, Cr Grant Tillett said he understood Mr Barnes's concerns but countered the application was not "an exercise in coming up with a final plan" and there would be "heaps of time" to work on finer detail if the funding was released.
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