Up in the air again: fight for Skydive the Beach ramps up

Permission to land: A small group of residents had continued to fight the company's use of public land. Pictures: Georgia Matts.
Permission to land: A small group of residents had continued to fight the company's use of public land. Pictures: Georgia Matts.

The community group behind legal action against Wollongong City Council and Skydive the Beach has urged the city’s local politicians to support the latest delay in approving the company’s planned Stuart Park headquarters.

But the region’s business groups have hit back at this latest hurdle in Skydive’s long-running battle to build in the park, ramping up a campaign to support the adventure tourism juggernaut.

Two councillors – Jill Merrin and Vicki Curran – have summoned their colleagues to an extraordinary meeting next week, over the development application for the tourism building.

They have asked councillors to takeover the decision on the DA from council staff, and then delay the decision until further reports into the legality of the building and use of public land are received.

Protect Our Parks Incorporated (POPI) – a group of Wollongong residents who lodged a summons with the NSW Land and Environment Court last June – said the meeting “should be short and sweet” as they believed councillors should support Cr Merrin’s motion.

“This is fundamental to provide good governance, so it is hoped that councillors should not hesitate to vote for it,” the group said.

Supporters: Mark Jones, Chris Lamont, Llew Leeming, Warwick Shanks, Mark Sleigh, Tania Brown and Debra Murphy line up for Skydive the Beach.

Supporters: Mark Jones, Chris Lamont, Llew Leeming, Warwick Shanks, Mark Sleigh, Tania Brown and Debra Murphy line up for Skydive the Beach.

“It will enable councillors to take control, get senior legal advice, follow proper procedures, base their decisions on all relevant facts, and comply with the laws in their decisions on Stuart Park.”

A frustrated Skydive director Anthony Ritter said the company had considered park users, stating “any person would recognise the net gain for the community delivered by the upgraded infrastructure”.

“Simple things like improved toilet amenities and importantly, enhanced disabled access are all part of the replacement upgraded facility,” he said. “We have listened to the feedback in regard to Stuart Park’s history and will recognise its heritage in our upgrade.

“All of us at Skydive are immensely proud of being headquartered in Wollongong and the contribution we make to the region through economic impact, employment, innovation and marketing of the city.

“We just want to provide an enhanced experience for Stuart Park users and get on with our business.”

The company estimates it contributed $37.1 million to the Illawarra in 2016, and says the new building will add 37 jobs and $1.6 million to household incomes.

Meantime, following a call to action from Destination Wollongong on Thursday, a contingent of business and development leaders met at the existing Skydive the Beach office block to show the region’s support for the business.

A majority of Mercury commentators appeared to side with the business leaders and tourism company, calling on the council to “approve it and move on”. 

WHAT THEY SAID

Protect Our Parks Incorporated

“Legal precedents require Crown reserves for public recreation to remain open to the public generally as of right and not be a source of private profit. The legal situation seems fairly clear in prohibiting a lease for the building and a licence to land on the oval.”

Anthony Boucaut, Skydive the Beach founder

“This has been a long and protracted process over the last 7 years, and at all times we have endeavoured to provide all the information required and have submitted ourselves to all necessary processes to enable the best possible outcome for all parties. It is extremely frustrating that a small group now seek to move the goal posts once again.”

Tania Brown, Destination Wollongong

“Councillors are unfairly targeting this business. Yes, it’s a success, but should it be punished for that? Having a council meeting to attack one DA is just unfathomable.

“This is going to be a shared resource, the new building will have public toilets and it’s not a close shop – it’s here for all of us to enjoy. We need to show the tourism business that we’re open for business.

“This company is over in Queenstown in New Zealand now, Queensland would beg for this sort of thing, the Central Coast would open their doors for them and we could lose out yet again. They started in Wollongong, they want to keep their head office in Wollongong and we need to make sure they do that.”

Debra Murphy, RDA Illawarra

“RDA Illawarra supports the growth of the tourism industry because its a key pillar of our economy moving forward. There’s roughly 11,000 people in our region working in tourism… so we think businesses need to be supported to grow and invest.

“It’s a bit of a tragedy that Skydive want to invest and have wanted to invest for a long time in making this a better place that what we’re looking at [in Stuart Park] today.”

Chris Lamont, Illawarra Business Chamber

“This is a unique tourism experience and it brings people from all over Australia and the world, providing an invaluable profile for the region and it also feeds other fledgling businesses in the tourism and broader hospitality sector. It’s critical for putting this region on the map.”

Mark Jones, Property Council

“For us, this is about respect for process. There is a clear process in place to be followed and developers need certainty. They take risks when deciding to invest and they should be able to have some confidence in a process being adhere to.

Mercury readers 

“Skydive Illawarra has brought much to this region. Besides bringing tourists and providing many jobs there is great joy watching the parachutes gently floating down. The calls of delight from the participants adds to the enjoyment. We should do all we can to encourage this successful and professional business.” – Susan Wood.

“Doesn't this development just improve wollongong and bring tourism and people to the area? You can't just beautify the area and have nothing for people to do, its quite simple people wont come and spend money in the area.” – Michael Macchione

“When the area is after employment and tourism for the local economy why would they even consider holding this up. It is a massive draw card to the area. Build it already!” – Carmel Donald 

“I'm with Gordon on this one. No more delays. Moving forward.” – Kylie Horobin