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Will the Maclean helipad fly?

Geoff Helisma | In May 2017, Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSW LHD) chief executive Wayne Jones announced that an independent safety audit had found Maclean District Hospital’s helipad “did not meet new safety engineering guidelines” and had to be closed. Asked: ‘For how long it would be closed?’, he said: “I’ll be in a better situation to comment about the duration of time it’s temporarily closed once we get that more detailed report.” Come Saturday November 3, 2018, Premier Gladys Berejiklian – flanked by members of Maclean Rotary, who raised about half of the funding for the existing helipad, members of the hospital’s auxiliary, hospital staff and Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis and his wife Vicki – announced that the NSW Government would contribute $400,000 towards a new helipad. The Premier was able to make the announcement due to a $350,000 bequest from the deceased estate of Merv and Yuki Sheehan. Mr Gulaptis said he was “thrilled” that the government “could match the funding” to construct “the helipad that we really need”. “We are a hospital that cannot deal with complex matters so this upgrade is a wonderful thing, and it’s a life saver,” he said. However, Ms Berejiklian did not tell those gathered when the upgrade was likely to happen. She said the government was “very grateful” to receive the bequest and that “we’ll get cracking and deliver this as soon as possible”.| “We’ll make sure that we kick in whatever is needed for the helipad,” she said. Subsequently, on November 15, the Independent asked Mr Gulaptis office’s when construction was likely to occur; was it a pre election promise? And also asked: given that the helipad was made redundant by the NSW Government’s changes to the state’s helicopter rescue services, why isn’t the government funding the entire helipad – surely there is enough cash in the Restart NSW Fund, which is meant to pay for infrastructure in regional areas? On Monday November 26, an answer of sorts was received from the Clarence MP’s office, which had forwarded the Independent’s enquiry to the Premier’s office: “Details of the funding arrangements are being finalised so that the project can get started,” it stated. “The funding of the helipad is not an election commitment.” Last Thursday, Mr Gulaptis said there was “nothing to indicate or suggest” the helipad would not be built. “I’m pretty comfortable with the announcement,” he said. “The premier said it’s going to happen, so I’m confident it will happen. “It’s a commitment by the government in the normal course of doing business.” Meanwhile, the Sheehans’ deceased estate trustee told the Independent that he had directed the $350,000 bequest, which was earmarked for undefined capital works at the hospital, towards the helipad because it would “be a great benefit to the local community”. “The offer was made to partly complete construction of the helipad, on the basis that the NSW Government pays the rest,” he said. “The Sheehans have done a wonderful thing for the community – now it’s up to the government to give a commencement date to stop helicopters landing in the park. “It is the trustee’s view that it should start before Christmas. “However, the $350,000 cheque will not be issued by the trustee until the project commences.” On the federal election front, Labor’s candidate for Page, Patrick Deegan, has reiterated his previous funding promise. “While we welcome the NSW Government following our lead with this announcement, we question … [why] the NSW Government hasn’t committed to funding the full project,” he said. “If they don’t build the helipad, a Shorten-[led] Labor government will. “We will provide the full $750,000, and we’ll get it done as soon as possible.”