Call to charge Skydive the Beach more for use of Stuart Park

A Wollongong residents group has called on the council to make Skydive the Beach pay more for its use of Stuart Park, after the multimillion-dollar tourism operator announced it will list on the stock exchange.

Resident activist Stephen Spencer, who heads a protest group called Save Our Services, said the news of the Skydive the Beach float - which aims to raise up to $20 million by selling new shares - sparked questions about its operations on public land.

"Good luck to Skydive the Beach, but it begs the question, now that we know how much the business is worth, why the council has only been charging them a relatively small amount for the use of Stuart Park," he said.

Skydive the Beach has been operating from North Wollongong since 1999, and started out conducting just under 1500 jumps in its first year. According to a prospectus lodged with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission last week, it conducted 18,781 tandem skydives in Wollongong in 2014.

A Wollongong City Council spokesman said the company paid $40,149 a year to use an old cottage at the centre of the park, and $7793 for the right to land in Stuart Park and Dalton Park.

"We need to ask whether that's really an appropriate amount for the use of Stuart Park for up to 14 hours a day," Mr Spencer said.

"It is a unique park and I would have thought it merits more than $7000 - so why not put it to the test?"

He said the group wanted the use of the land put out for public tender, to allow other businesses to express interest in the land.

"Our fundamental concern is that the land should be open for public use; we don't believe any business should be allowed to exclusively use such a large part of a public asset like Stuart Park," he said.

"But if the council is determined to lease it out, then at least it should get back a market rent for the use of such land."

These views were echoed by independent councillor Greg Petty, who has flagged plans to call on the council to seek competitive tenders for the use of Stuart and Dalton Parks for skydiving.

Cr Petty hopes to raise a notice of motion at the next council meeting urging the council to gain a government valuation of the land and provide more information on the history of the site licences.

The council is in the process of determining an application from Skydive the Beach to build a new headquarters on land adjacent to the existing building.

Last month, Wollongong's Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel said the building should be allowed to go ahead, but suggested the company provide an operations plan before the application was approved.

A council spokesman said the application could be determined once the plan was lodged.

The company will also need to enter into a separate lease to build the new administration block, which will be considered by councillors at a future meeting, he said.

The Mercury sought comment from Skydive the Beach about the residents' concerns about its use of Stuart Park but did not receive a response before the paper's deadline.


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