History of skydiving activities in Stuart Park Reserve
On 29 September 1883, Stuart Park was formally gazetted as a public park. On 10 January 1994, a Reserve Trust was assigned to Wollongong City Council following amendments to the Local Government Act, and the first North Beach and Stuart Park Plan of Management (PoM) was adopted. Management of the Stuart Park Reserve is currently guided by the Blue Mile Master Plan, the Stuart Park and North Beach Reserve North Wollongong PoM, and the City Foreshore PoM.
Commercial skydiving activities have been in operation in Wollongong for over 20 years, and in the Stuart Park Reserve since 1997. Elected Council have resolved on several occasions to support this activity in this Stuart Park Reserve and reaffirm this component of the Blue Mile Master Plan, most recently on 27 April 2015. The current operator commenced skydiving activities in Stuart Park in 1999 under a licence granted by Council.
The Caretaker’s Cottage located in the Stuart Park Reserve was constructed circa 1930. Council occupied the Cottage between sometime in the 1950’s to 1989, when a resolution was passed by elected Council to demolish the Cottage and replace it with a new building on the southern boundary of the park, near the roundabout. The Cottage was used as a caretaker’s residence initially when Stuart Park operated as a camping ground, and then a “Park Ranger” building until it was vacated in 1989.
In 2000 the Cottage was leased to Skydive the Beach, who have occupied it since that time as a check-in facility for their skydiving venture. A number of subsequent lease arrangements for use of the Cottage have been entered into between Council and Skydive the Beach, and the rent for that use has increased over this time to a rate that is now in line with CBD commercial rent. NSW Crown Lands confirmed that the re-negotiations for these new leases were appropriate in this instance.
On 21 March 2014, Skydive the Beach lodged Development Application (DA) 2014/306, for the construction of a new administration building in the Stuart Park Reserve. DA-2014/306 went before the Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel (IHAP) in November 2014, and as a result the proposed development was relocated to a more appropriate site within the Reserve. DA-2014/306 was subsequently recommended for approval by the IHAP, and was ultimately approved in March 2015.
Following this approval, proceedings were commenced in the Land and Environment Court in June 2015 by a local residents group concerned about the proposed development. The Court imposed a suspension on the Development Consent while the matter was considered. In February 2017, the suspension was lifted by the Court following a full hearing of the matter.
Moving forward, Council will now seek two independent valuations to support its lease and licence negotiations with the current skydiving operator. The terms of any proposed lease will be put to elected Council and the Department of Lands for consideration prior to negotiations commencing with Skydive the Beach. Once agreement has been reached regarding commercial arrangements for the Stuart Park Reserve, a report will be presented to elected Council for consideration, and forwarded to the Minister for final approval.
If the proposed lease is endorsed by elected Council and the Minister, the current skydiver operator will be in a position to commence construction in accordance with DA-2014/306.