IN WHAT was seen as a morning of political manoeuvring, the Bendigo Airport has secured funding to begin its long-awaited terminal upgrade.
At at 11.30am, Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters and shadow minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development Catherine King were set to announce Labor would commit $4.5 million to the airport upgrade if it wins this year's federal election.
Before they could however, the Liberal-National Government sent out a press release stating Bendigo Airport would receive $4.5 million as part of Community Development Grant funding.
The expansion of the airport will also include $4.5 million of state government funding and a $985,000 commitment from council.
City of Greater Bendigo mayor Andrea Metcalf said an expanded terminal meant Bendigo would be able to welcome bigger planes, access new domestic travel opportunities and attract more tourists to the region.
"We are so excited by today's news," she said.
"This has been council's number one priority project for a number of years and we very much look forward to this next stage of construction at Bendigo Airport."
The airport upgrade will include new departure and waiting lounges, expanded car parking facilities, a security screening area, a baggage claim, an expanded café and restroom facilities.
It is expected to see 49 jobs created during constructions and 19 new jobs created to cope with the airport's expanded operations.
Deputy Prime Minister and federal infrastructure, transport and regional development minister Barnaby Joyce said the airport's expanded operations would facilitate greater economic activity in the region.
"Throughout the pandemic, we've seen greater numbers of Australians holidaying in our regions," Mr Joyce said. "These upgrades to Bendigo Airport will facilitate more flights to and from the city, providing a boost for local tourism operators, supporting jobs and driving increased economic activity."
Construction on the airport expansion is set to start later in the year and be completed by 2023.
Senator for Victoria Sarah Henderson commended council, Bendigo Airport and the broader Bendigo community on their vision for this vital expansion.
"Once operational, the airport will generate a large boost in jobs, deliver tourism and business travel opportunities to the region and increase local economic output each year," she said.
Previously, the Coalition Government has provided $5 million to construct a new runway to suit larger aircraft and $300,000 to build a helicopter stand and a fuel truck parking area for emergency services.
It also set aside $465,000 last June to extend the airport's runway and allow planes of different sizes to be separated.
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Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum said discussions regarding the airport's expansion had been going on for almost a year.
"The City of Greater Bendigo has been in discussions about the Bendigo Airport with the Liberal and Nationals Government over the last 12 months," Mr Drum said.
"We are proud to support the delivery of new infrastructure that will bring more people to our region and better connect locals to where they need to go."
Ms Chesters said the Bendigo Airport terminal upgrade had been the books for our region for a number of years and that funding for the project should not have taken so long.
"It has been the number priority for the better part of five years. It is a project that is desperately needed," she said.
"There is limited capacity at this terminal to expand and have more flights coming here. At the moment the service we have is Bendigo to Sydney - which is a great service - but we want more. It is a growing airport and growing region that is incredibly successful.
"Labor knows how important this project is. It shouldn't take a federal election for this government to realise this project needs to happen. (The Liberal Party) didn't commit to it at the last election, they have had a another three rounds of the Building Better Regions (fund) to commit to it and they haven't."
Ms King said Ms Chesters had been a champion for the project for a number of years only to have it rejected a number of times.
"Thank goodness council did persevere and kept up with this project," Ms King said. "We have announced a $4.5 million election commitment and now had the (Coalition) government, in the last 20 minutes match the commitment Labor has made.
"What that means is that $4.5 million for the upgrade of the terminal is now on the table well and truly at the next election. I hope construction starts as soon as possible (but) I think it is unlikely to start before the next federal election.
"This project has been on the City of Greater Bendigo's books for five years. It has had four rejected applications by the Liberal Party for the Building Better Regions fund. There is a bit of cynicism about why today this is their priority project, but it doesn't matter because at the end of the day there is $4.5 million on table to get this project done."
City of Greater Bendigo chief executive Craig Niemann said council would move quickly to the tender process to appoint a contractor.
"This is fantastic news for our region and today's announcement finalised the funding needed for the project, so we will be calling for construction tenders next week," Mr Niemann said.
"We look forward to making future announcements about routes to new destinations and other investment opportunities. It's onwards and upwards for the Bendigo Airport again."
BE Bendigo interim chief Rob Stephenson said the airport has already proved itself valuable to the visitor economy as well as other Bendigo businesses.
"It has connected the art gallery and meant Bendigo is a destination in its own right," he said. "The ability for people to stay a day or extra days is important to many hospitality and retail businesses.
"The business community also uses this airport to connect with the world. I know it is everyone aspiration to build Bendigo in to a world class city and part of that is how we connect to the world.
"As the city and its businesses try to build reputations and establish Bendigo as an important name and destination for business - a world class airport is absolutely essential for that."
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