The recent “Out There” Summit tied up the development of Western Sydney as an attractive bow on the unwanted gift that is Badgery’s Creek Airport.
I recently attended the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue’s “Out There” Summit at UWS. On the label, the summit was touted as a place to generate big ideas for Western Sydney, to showcase major projects, to set the debate for regional investment, governance, infrastructure and social inclusion. Reads well, but looking inside, the contents of the jar were another matter altogether.
I live in the Blue Mountains, a city with a boundary on the far edge of the government’s Western Sydney “project” area, and a place that is often thought of as “out there” by Sydneysiders (despite being less than 70km from the CBD). At the eastern end of the wild west sits Parramatta, a hive of investment activity, and a place touted at the summit as being the geographical heart of Sydney.
While Sydney is a beautiful city, her 4.8 million population (2014) spans some 12,367 square kilometres with a population density of 380.
By comparison, Greater London has 8.5 million people in 1,572 square kilometres, giving a population density of 5,432.
Further west, the suburbs become cheaper, more ethnically diverse and tend to have more social deprivation than those closer to the CBD (although there are inner city pockets with problems too, as with any city). Along with various social issues, Western Sydney is very much the commuter belt, with many people travelling from the region into the CBD for work each day – a journey that takes up to two hours. These commutes are part of “the Western Sydney problem” and have earned us the nickname of “squinters,” as each day we drive into the sun both on our way to and back from work.
The Out There Summit, and the Western Sydney development plan, contain many good ideas; ones that I support, especially if it means people can work closer to home, spending more time with family and less time clogging up the roads. The summit and the development plan also contain a provision for social welfare and environmental management: the development of green spaces for leisure, an investment in walk-and-cycleways. All of this is excellent, especially in light of the fact that many people want to live in cities, especially when the city living is well planned and supported. I doubt there are many of us “out here” that enjoy spending two to three hours commuting each day – there are only so many books you can read or songs you can listen to.
So where’s the joke?
While I don’t want to believe that all of this good stuff is just a sweetener for the Badgery’s Creek Airport, I have to say that after attending the summit, I can’t help but think that this is the case – especially given the language of the day’s chair, Christopher Brown AM (Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue).
For thirty or more years, plans for a second Sydney airport have been promoted, muted and then dropped. While I haven’t been present for any other airport promotional campaigns, I do know from past environmental impact statements that the concerns of residents and objections to the plans have remained the same, despite the fact that the landscape of the Western Sydney region has moved on, become more populated and, in the case of the Blue Mountains, has gained prestige.
The location for Badgery’s Creek is shown on the map above as the smaller black circle. The bigger one is the populated corridor of the Blue Mountains where I live. The arrows indicate the main route into the city from the west, the M4.
The map below shows a larger view of the Greater Sydney region, giving you a sense of the layout of the land. The curved black line is my attempt to show you the area that is classified as Western Sydney, with everything to the left of the line being included in the development plan. The map is approximate, and the red dot is Badgery’s Creek. The boundary of the planned airport to the boundary of the Blue Mountains is approximately eight kilometres, highlighted by the green line to provide some sense of scale.
The land at Badgery’s creek was previously held by the CSIRO and has been earmarked for development since (at least) 1989. The Medich family purchased the land in 1997 and are actively involved in planning discussions. Other significant landholders in the Badgery’s Creek development zone include Ingham’s Poultry Farm, Liverpool City Council, the Australian Airforce and Boral Brickworks. A full report is available here.
So, you may be asking, what is wrong with having an airport at Badgery’s Creek?
Well, let’s start with the environmental impact statement.
On October 19, 2015 a draft of the EIS was put on public display. Upon reading the draft, many members of the Blue Mountains community became outraged, primarily because the EIS was merely a reincarnation of practically every other EIS deemed unsuitable by the community. The Residents Against Western Sydney Airport group soon sprang up in response.
Several key mistakes were found in the data presented, especially in regards to CO2 emissions – but that wasn’t the only issue within the EIS. The noise levels in the report are of dubious merit, and the governmental response to this issue at the summit was along the lines of, “Well, aircraft are getting so quiet it’s really not worth worrying your little head about.” This is despite the fact that the airport will rely heavily on the movement of freight for its profitability, and freight planes are often the last to become noiseless, given that freight usually doesn’t give a damn if the cabin is a bit loud.
The proposed airport will operate with no curfew; a 24/7 freight hub above an area that has been slated for residential development – an area which has the stated goal of increasing the social welfare of those within.
I sat in the “Resilient Cities” break-out room waiting for either Amanda Larkin (CEO, South West Sydney Local Health District) or Billie Sankovic (Director, Western Sydney Community Forum) to mention this elephant in the room, but they didn’t. A social worker and a health care professional not having any concerns on how a 24/7 airport might impact the health and wellbeing of the estimated million people living around the airport…?
Aside from noise, pollution is another major factor. Sydney is situated in a basin bounded by the Blue Mountains, and the pollution tends to settle out over the outer west suburbs of Penrith, Mt Druitt, St Claire and Emu Plains. I can’t imagine that a second airport in the Sydney basin will do much to curtail the already poor air quality “out there.”
I was lucky enough to be able to ask a question at the summit. (I say “lucky” because the time given over for questions was so excruciatingly finite.) During the “Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Regional Major Projects” section I asked the panel of Tim Reardon (Secretary Transport for NSW), Brendan McRandle (Executive Director, Department of Infrastructure), Kerrie Mather (CEO, Sydney Airport) and Jim Betts (CEO, Infrastructure NSW) the following:
Before we commit to spending any more money on the Badgery’s Creek Airport development, wouldn’t it be a good idea to try running Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport for 24/7 to see how that goes?
Cue sniggers from the room.
I asked the question to Kerrie Mather but it was Jim Betts who responded with, “That was a question for government rather than Sydney Airport.” I was not happy with the answer, because cutting through the subtext, the message was clear: “We wouldn’t do that because of the population areas surrounding Kingsford Smith.” It was at this point that Christopher Brown added his comment of, “Well, aircraft are getting quieter and I wouldn’t want my kids to miss out on all of the opportunities coming in this Western Sydney plan.”
So, let me just take that up here now, Christopher Brown.
I would love for my kids to be able to breathe as well as getting rich and enjoying shorter commutes than I have had to endure.
I would also like to think that my children would be able to get some sleep, as adults who may well end up living in Western Sydney.
It would also be nice if my children could enjoy the beauty that is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I’d also like to think that they could bring their kids here to experience some wilderness and solitude.
But pollution and noise aren’t the only reasons that I find this whole thing farcical. I challenged the premise that Sydney needs a second airport especially in light of this fact: The third busiest passenger route in the world is Sydney to Melbourne. High-speed rail could do those journeys in four hours. This has been modelled by Beyond Zero Emissions, and given the current economic and environmental pressures, it makes absolutely no sense that this option hasn’t been fully debated.
A Badgery’s Creek rail hub linked to a high-speed network rail to Kingsford Smith Airport would be a lovely idea. Connect Badgery’s Creek to the central tablelands and on to Canberra (international airport option 2), the nation’s Capital and then through to Melbourne. In the other direction link Badgery’s Creek with Sydney Kingsford Smith and then on to Newcastle (international airport option 3) and all the way up to Brisbane (international airport option 4) and suddenly we are looking smart, connected and more aeropolitan that you can poke a stick at. (Apparently, the book Aerotropolis: The way we’ll live next is the “game changing” book that has provided the rationale behind this latest Badgery’s Creek push.)
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that an airport requires investment in the land and airport infrastructure, but that the skies provide the “roads” and the skies don’t need building; whereas high-speed rail would be a much more difficult task to pull off, involving co-ordination across multiple stakeholders and layers of government, added with the investment in track building and maintenance. I agree. But don’t we owe it to our children to be brave and give this “Out There” idea a fair go? Can we act on that favourite governmental slogan, literally “winning hearts and minds,” instead of just keeping the debate away from our ears?
There is much more that could be said, but I would like to outline the other side of the “Out There” Summit, and why I walked away with the feeling that well thought out opposition to the development would be as welcome as a turd in their new swimming pool.
The keynote address was given by Lucy Turnbull, the wife of Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s current Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Party. Lucy Turnbull is the Chief Commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission – rethinking Western Sydney. As their website put it: “The Greater Sydney Commission is responsible for metropolitan planning in a partnership between State and local government.”
The discussion on Planes, Trains and Automobiles included Kerrie Mather, as mentioned, the CEO of Sydney Airport. Sydney Airport gets first rights to the running of Badgery’s Creek Airport.
The event sponsors included the Celestino Property Group, owned by the Baiada family, who also own Steggles and Lilydale chickens. This group presented a video at the start of the Building Smarter Cities discussion panel and are the company set to profit from the development of the Sydney Science Park.
The science park presented contained an image of a large food research facility.
The Building Smarter Cities panel also had Robert Rankin (Chair, Crown Resorts) on the panel, and Crown went on to win one of the five Pemulwuy Prizes for their work to promote the arts in Western Sydney. Western Sydney has a gambling problem, mainly with poker machines which are owned and run predominantly by a company other than Crown Casino, but it is a gambling problem nonetheless. Crown Casino is a Packer enterprise.
The “Branding the new Western Sydney” discussion panel included Lillian Saleh on the panel. Lillian is the Day Editor of the Sunday Telegraph – a company that went on to win another of the five Pemulwuy Prizes for their work in promoting the airport in Western Sydney. The Telegraph is owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Lendlease and TAFE were two more recipients of the Pemulwuy prize. This is a partnership between a major infrastructure development company and an education provider. Lendlease and TAFE successes were celebrated in the media in June 2015 when they announced the employment of the 500th apprentice and 50th Indigenous apprentice at the Barangaroo development site. Barangaroo is the site of the new Crown Casino.
If you think this process and proposal holds the best for Western Sydney and operates purely on the basis of its citizens, fine. But unlike those who pitch Badgery’s Creek, I’m unsold.