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Venture to find airport partner is down to one

By Mark Beale

WHITSUNDAY Regional Council’s airport and aerodrome joint venture project has entered the final stage, with councillors voting to begin exclusive negotiations with a preferred proponent, subject to terms.

Mayor Jennifer Whitney said the council’s chief executive officer and “interim general manager of commercial” Scott Waters was in detailed negotiations with the preferred proponent to jointly develop, grow and manage the Whitsunday Coast Airport and associated aerodromes.

While details of the proponent are considered “commercial in confidence”, Cr Whitney did reveal this was a “very high calibre, Australian-based proponent from the private sector who recognises the potential of the Whitsunday region and is prepared to work with council on a partnership basis”.

“The partnership we are working towards will protect council’s majority ownership of the airport and ensure that it remains a community asset well into the future, while delivering an excellent growth and development outcome for the Whitsunday region,” she said.

Mr Waters said there had been significant interest from the private sector “(and) it is very pleasing for council to see the project enter into final stages of negotiation after over 12 months”.

He described the proponent as an Australian institutional investor and infrastructure manager, with large-scale interests in Australian airports as well as ports, renewable energy, agriculture and government social-based infrastructure.

Mr Waters said negotiations would be ongoing over the next three to four weeks, with final recommendations put to councillors in mid-January.

At last week’s council meeting not all councillors were agreed on forging forward, with Crs Peter Ramage, Dave Clark and Deputy Mayor Andrew Willcox in favour of tabling the matter. Cr Willcox said the proponent’s offer was “not the spirit of the deal that we all structured” and Cr Clark said given the amount of time spent in confidential talks and the number of questions asked, “it definitely needs a workshop”.

“It’s probably one of the biggest deals that council’s going to make and we’re rushing into it,” he said.

Meanwhile Cr John Collins said he saw this as a “fantastic company” and a great opportunity.

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