Gliding move is still in the air after no move on 566 per cent hit

Wings away?: There is still doubt about Australia's biggest gliding club remaining at Benalla after its president John Switala met mayor Don Firth and shire managers, including chief executive Tony McIlroy, on Tuesday afternoon.
Wings away?: There is still doubt about Australia's biggest gliding club remaining at Benalla after its president John Switala met mayor Don Firth and shire managers, including chief executive Tony McIlroy, on Tuesday afternoon.

THE boss of Australia’s biggest gliding club believes only “a large meteorite wiping out” Benalla’s council offices could halt a 566 per cent airport rent hike. 

Gliding Club of Victoria president John Switala was speaking after meeting council figures, including mayor Don Firth, to discuss the rise in hangar rent from 75 cents per sq m to $5 per sq m.

“They did reiterate their $5 a square metre, in fact the mayor said it so many times I’m not sure there’s any other numbers left in the numbers line,” Mr Switala said.

The council plans to present an overall costs deal, involving the hangars, clubhouse and aero park, to the club by the end of October.

In the meantime, Mr Switala will examine offers to move the club to Wangaratta, Corowa or Tocumwal airports following contact with councils in those areas.

“I’m more or less obligated to have a look at what those other councils are offering and see what I can do,” he said.

“Based on their attitude (at Benalla) I’m not sure, other than a large meteorite wiping out the council chambers, what can change their mind.

“We have lobbied logically against it and that’s not going to change their mind and if I say ‘we’re going to move’, they’re probably going to say ‘okay’.

“I’m sensing they want their dough so bad, they’ll forgo nothing for it.”

Benalla Council has proposed the increase to cover the costs of an airport master plan and argues the gliders have amenity benefits beyond their hangars.

Cr Firth said following the meeting he “came out feeling more confident” about the club staying but the council was “still of the opinion $5 per sq m is the correct amount”.

The issue has divided opinion in Benalla but Cr Firth believes there is sizeable support for the council.

“I think there is a concern we’ll lose an important component to Benalla’s make-up but the majority of people I think are expecting us to clean the whole lot up and there needs to be a fair and equitable deal,” he said.

“I won’t say who’s winning, that’s a difficult one, but I’m confident we have the support of a large part of the community.”

Formal public comment may be sought if the matter goes to a council meeting.