Tamara Smith, Greens Mp. Photo Contributed
Tamara Smith, Greens Mp. Photo Contributed Suze McLeod

Ballina trying to steal Lismore's new Westpac helibase

LISMORE'S suitability as the site of the new Westpac Life Saver helibase will come under scrutiny with a decision by the NSW Health Minister to review the impact of fog and floods on aircraft take-offs in the town.

Earlier this year Ballina MP Tamara Smith, whose electorate does not include Lismore but some of whose coastal constituents work for the Westpac Helicopter, argued that Lismore was inappropriate for the new helibase.

The Greens MP said she met with ambulance workers and operational staff from the base who live in her electorate and was "very concerned" about reports of frequent fog and weather events limiting aircraft take-offs.

Data from Bureau of Meteorology reviewed by pilots at the base indicated that between May 2015 and September 2015 "about 40 percent of nights had sufficient fog that would prevent responses to accidents and emergencies".

"When you think how important the helicopter rescue service is to our community this was information that needed to be presented to the Minister and relevant authorities and it wasn't being heard," she said.

She said there was "evidence of an even greater impact of fog and flooding at the proposed new site at Lismore airport" than the current site on Bangalow Rd.

Review welcome

Ms Smith released a statement today welcoming the review.

She said it would include a "full analysis of available weather data on the impact of flood events and weather conditions at the new Lismore Helicopter Base, as well as an analysis of Lismore Council data on the frequency, extent and effect on operations of local flooding.

"It is commendable that at this time it appears the Minister is putting the needs of the community first, rather than seeking for the base to remain in a coalition electorate," she said.

"Helicopter retrieval services serve the entire NSW community, not a specific electorate and should be available as often as possible.

"My daughter was flown by Helicopter Rescue to the Royal Children's Hospital in Brisbane as an 18 month old baby and it saved her life. The real impact of the service not being able to take off cannot be over emphasised."

"I will be monitoring that process very carefully and communicating our right as a community to have critical care medical teams and helicopter retrieval service available to respond as often as possible.

"Additionally, I will be advocating for the safety standards... stipulated in the new NSW Health Aeromedical contract for the protection of our helicopter pilots, crewman, doctors and paramedics."

"Anywhere but Lismore" claim contested

Local delegate from the Australian Paramedics Association Ryan Salter told The Northern Star in January that the best place for the helibase was "anywhere but Lismore".

At the time general manager of the Westpac helicopter service, Kris Beavis, dismissed the claim.

Mr Beavis said the Lismore location had proven capable of delivering an "appropriate chain of clinical care" and was "right at the top of the tree" in terms of reliability.

A spokesman for NSW Ambulance said "extensive stakeholder consultation" was carried out in a 2012 review which recommended the base be maintained in Lismore.

"No objections were received during the consultation process regarding concerns about the potential impact of fog ... or a need to move the helicopter base away from Lismore," the spokesman said.

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