A NSW council has hit back at criticism a project in its local government area is not worthy of bushfire recovery funds.
The Macleay Valley Skydiving Adventure Park, at the Kempsey Regional Airport, has received more than $11 million thanks to the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund.
It was hoped the project, which includes a canopy swoop pond, a BMX pump track and an indoor rock climbing gym, would provide a major attraction for the region and help promote the Macleay Valley to tourists as an adventure sport capital in regional NSW.
‘Waste of money’
Tim McDonald, a skydive operator in nearby Port Macquarie and resident of Kempsey Shire, said people in the local government area were still waiting for assistance following the deadly fires in 2019.
“For that money from the bushfires to be spent on skydiving is a complete waste of money,” he said.
“The poor people in Kempsey Shire are really waiting for that money.
“I think Kempsey Council has gone the wrong way on this one … I don’t see it being a real good thing at all – not for Kempsey, that’s for sure.
“Appeal-wise, I’ve jumped there many times, we’re basically jumping over Kempsey gaol.
“Training-wise for skydiving … it’s ridiculous … people travel hours on end from Sydney, Brisbane, even South Australia to come train in wind tunnels … and that can be done easily for under $11 million.”
Mr McDonald said swoop ponds were a specific type of sport and canopy sweeping was more for the experienced.
“Not for training as such, it’s not for intermediate or beginner and it’s also very dangerous so to participate in that sport,” he said.
“We’re aiming at a very small market of skydivers that aren’t in this area.”
Australian Parachute Federation chief executive, Richard McCooey, said the organisation would most likely use the facility for national competitions but that only a relatively small number of elite skydivers would use the ponds.
‘Money well spent’
However, Kempsey Shire Council general manager Craig Milburn said the project was to develop the economy.
“It’s actually a bushfire local economic recovery fund,” he said.
“Kempsey is one of the most disadvantaged areas in NSW, it needs economic stimulus. This project certainly meets all those criteria.”
Although there for locals first and foremost, Mr Milburn said the project was to grow the area’s tourism base.
“It’s there to actually attract international events … so from a local bushfire economic recovery point of view, it is money that is going to be very well spent,” he said.
“It’s a multipurpose adventure park and the pond is not just for skydiving.
“The pond is a very small aspect of it … there’s actually a full skydiving centre … that will be certainly one of the best in the country.”
Mr Milburn said the canopy swoop pond had other uses.
“Because it’s only a metre deep, you can literally put a primary-school-aged child in a kayak and stand next to them, start teaching them really good water skills in an area that they can’t get away,” he said.
“You can actually put very small sailing boats onto the pond as well.
“It can be used for corporate business training and we’ve been working with the education department in terms of the dormitory accommodation to actually make it suitable for schools to attend.”
Chief instructor and operations manager for Coffs Skydivers in Coffs Harbour, Lawrence Hill ,who has operated at Kempsey Airport for four years running student and club activities, has been involved in the project.
“It’s the perfect location for this particular Adventure Park and it would provide a huge amount of opportunities for the local area,” he said.
“Kempsey is roughly halfway between Brisbane and Sydney. It’s got a commercial-sized runway at a large airport that has very little traffic, so that makes it just about perfect.
“It’s also about 30 kilometres from the coas, which means we don’t get the strong coastal breezes, so for all types of skydiving it actually makes it a perfect location.”
Mr Hill said that the redevelopment meant that it could become a “world-class” facility that would attract professional and competitive skydivers from around the world.
“Our major focus here is things like having the Australian skydiving team training there, having large-scale competitions happening at that facility,” he said.
“We want to get to the point where we can do a skydive diploma, which means people come in not knowing how to skydive, stay there for three, four, five months and in the end have enough experience that they can get industry placement.
“We have the opportunity here to run the Australian nationals run swoop competitions in Kempsey and there’s a possibility of getting these competitions to come from overseas – we could actually run a world-class skydiving competition here.”