Background briefing for the non-local readers out there (yes, all one of you 🙂 )
I live in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, a city that boundaries the far western edge of what is also known as ‘Western Sydney’. While the Blue Mountains is a city in its own right it is included in this model for Western Sydney although I have to confess to not knowing the full legalities of that.
While Sydney is a beautiful city it is also sprawling with its 4.8 million population (2014) spanning some 12,367 square kilometres with a population density of 380 per square kilometre.
By comparison Greater London has 8.5 million people in 1572 square kilometres giving a population density of 5432 per square kilometre.
As you move further out to the west of the city the suburbs become cheaper in terms of housing affordability, 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 also very much a commuter belt with many people travelling from the region into the city CBD for work each day, a journey that takes up to 2 hours by train from the top of the Blue Mountains, 1 hour from Penrith or around the same by car (depending on the traffic it can regularly take me two hours to travel 72km). These long commutes are part of the ‘Western Sydney’ problem and are what has earned us the nickname of ‘squinters’ as each day we drive into the sun both on our way to and way home from work. Long commutes are a necessity many as the majority of Sydney’s work opportunities exist within the margins of the inner city and that is one thing that this ‘Out There’ summit addressed.
The ‘Out There’ summit and the Western Sydney development plan contains many good ideas, ideas that I am in full support of especially when it means that people can work closer to home thus spending more time with family and less time polluting the airways and clogging up roads. The summit and the development plans also contain provision for social welfare and environmental management – the development of ‘green’ spaces for leisure, investment in walk and cycle ways and more besides. All of this is excellent especially in light of the fact that many people WANT to live in cities and that city living is not only convenient and economically attractive it is also lighter on the environment, especially when city living is well planned and supported. I doubt there are many of us ‘out here’ that like 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? What’s wrong with this picture?
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 yesterday I can’t help but think that especially given the way the day’s moderator Christopher Brown was carrying on.
Badgery’s Creek Airport.
For thirty or more years plans for a second Sydney airport have been muted, promoted and then dropped. I haven’t been here for any other airport promotional campaigns but I do know from past Environmental Impact Statements that the concerns of residents and objection to the plans have remained the same each time while the landscape of the Western Sydney region has moved on, become more populated and, in the case of the Blue Mountains gained UNESCO World Heritage Status.
Badgery’s Creek location is shown on the map below as the smaller black circle. The bigger one is the populated corridor of the Blue Mountains where I live, the arrows show the main route into the city from the west, the M4.
The map below here shows a panned out 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 ‘Western Sydney’ with everything to the left of the line being included in the development plan that I’m talking about. The map is approximate and the red dot is the Badgery’s Creek area. The planned airport boundary to the boundary of the Blue Mountains is approx. 8km as highlighted by the green line to help you get some idea of scale.
The land at Badgery’s creek used to be held by Government agency 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. I saw Roy Medich at the summit. Here he is buying a coffee.
Like many family companies the Medich group have had their problems and in 2014 Roy went to court to distance himself and his business from his brother Ron who was accused of murdering his business partner back in 2010. Ron is due to stand trial in July this year.
Other land holders in the Badgery’s Creek development zone of significant size include Ingham’s Poultry Farm, Liverpool City Council, The airforce and Boral Brickworks. A full report is available online.
So what is wrong with having an airport at Badgery’s Creek?
Ok so at this point (as if it isn’t already obvious) I have to point out that I am NOT a fan of the idea that we NEED an airport at Badgery’s creek.
Let’s go on.
The Environmental Impact Statement Period for Public Comment:
On Monday 19th October 2015 a draft EIS was put on public display and remained open for comment until 18th December – just over 8 weeks in the lead-up to Christmas.
On reading the EIS many members of the Blue Mountains community became outraged at the fact that this EIS was nothing new and in fact was a re-incarnation of pretty much every other EIS that has gone before the people and been defeated. A group – Residents Against Western Sydney Airport sprang up online and people started sharing their comments and feedback. The group has now spread outside of the Blue Mountains (quaint little people that we are) to include people from across the Western Sydney region.
Key Concerns from the EIS process and the Out There Summit.
Several key mistakes were found in the data presented in the EIS including those to do with pollution / CO2 emissions. These errors were discussed in the RAWSA group and feedback was given to government (as you do during a public consultancy process). Now you would think that a government document would have version control being as though this is such a pivotal piece of communication but no, there wasn’t and within a few days of being informed of the errors a new version of the EIS suddenly appeared online without any apology, correction notice or announcement. I am struggling to write this without expletives……..
Anyway, that wasn’t the only issue within the EIS, noise levels given in the report are of dubious merit and conversations since including comments at yesterdays Summit were along the lines of ‘aircraft are getting so quiet it’s really not worth worrying your little head about’ or to be less polite ‘suck it up princess’ or ‘stop being a NIMBY’. This is all in spite of the fact that this airport will rely heavily on freight movements for its profitability and freight planes are often the last to become noiseless and lower polluting given that freight usually doesn’t give a damn if the cabin is a bit loud. Also freight tends to move at night, when it is cheaper and when people in Western Sydney will be trying to get to sleep which brings me onto my next point.
The airport being proposed will operate with no curfew – a 24/7 airport, right over an area that has been outlined for development that is supposed to increase the social welfare of what will be over a million people. I sat in the ‘Resilient Cities’ breakout 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 didn’t voice any concerns about how a 24/7 airport might impact on the health and wellbeing of over a million people living around the airport development? And of course it is not just noise, this airport is planned for the Sydney basin the west of which suffers from notoriously bad air quality given the way that particulates tend to settle out this way. ‘Out There is a big smoggy’, I wonder how our Chinese visitors will feel about coming to ‘clean and green’ Australia when they arrive in a place that is dirtier and more polluted than their country….
I was lucky enough to be able to ask a question at yesterday’s summit, I say ‘lucky’ because the time given over for questions was so terribly short it was almost as if they didn’t want us to speak. Almost….
Anyway, 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, Dept of Infrastructure), Kerrie Mather (CEO, Sydney Airport), Jim Betts (CEO Infrastructure NSW) this:
“Before we commit to spending any more money on the Badgery’s Creek Airport development process wouldn’t it be a good idea to try running Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport for 24/7 to see how that goes”.
Sniggers from the room.
I was a bit nervous so the question was probably a bit babbled but they got the idea and did answer it. I asked the question to Kerrie Mathers but Jim Betts answered as apparently ‘that was a question for government rather than Sydney Airport’. I fail to see why but anyway….
I was not happy with the answer which was along the lines of ‘well we can’t do that because of the population areas surrounding the Kingsford Smith airport’. Which basically means that if they did that the rich folks in Sydney would be outraged and would kick up a right stink. The take-home message for me was that we would again just have to ‘suck it up’. 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. Maybe.
Now I’ll just take a minute here to tell you something, I am not just some utopian dream-boat hippy living a fairytale life of privilege oblivious of the world around me and the need for progress. I am expecting insults of that nature at some stage as that is a common tactic of those who lie, discredit those that disagree.
Pollution and noise aside they aren’t the only reasons that I find this whole thing farcical.
I challenged the premise that Sydney NEEDS a second airport in the basin during the EIS process especially in light of this:
The third busiest passenger route in the whole world is Sydney to Melbourne! The 10th is Sydney to Brisbane.
High speed rail could do those journeys in 4 hours, it has been modelled by Beyond Zero Emissions and given the current economic and environmental pressures facing the world it makes absolutely NO sense that this option hasn’t been fully debated.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that an airport only requires investment in the land and airport infrastructure, 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 stake holders and layers of government PLUS investment in track building and maintenance but don’t we owe it to our children to be brave and give this ‘OUT THERE’ idea a FAIR GO (fair go is another favourite Government slogan, they think it makes us Westies think they give a shit. The slogan was used in a media campaign to ‘win hearts and minds’ while keeping the real debate from us).
It wasn’t many moons ago that the government was all about eco cities and money was pumped into places like Dubbo and Bathurst. I wonder if that is now in the ‘too hard’ basket? Shame really as thinking outside of the basin could tick a lot more boxes and help preserve our basic human rights for clean air, water and food.
Back to original point of challenging the need for a second airport, a Badgery’s creek rail hub linked in to a high-speed rail into the 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 (international airport 3). In the other direction link Badgery’s creek with Sydney Kingsford Smith and then on to Newcastle (international airport 4) and all the way up to Brisbane (international airport option 5) and suddenly we are looking smart, connected and more Aerotropolis 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. I wonder what would have happened if they had of passed ‘Hunger Games’ around the chamber……
There is much more that could be said about all of this but I just want to spend a few minutes outlining the other side of the ‘out there’ summit and why I really walked away feeling that well thought out opposition to the plans is as welcome as a turd in a swimming pool.
I’ll put it in dot points and keep to facts only at this point.
- 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: Re Thinking Western Sydney. From their website: ‘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 (CEO, Sydney Airport), the airport that 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 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’s a gambling problem nonetheless.
- 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.
- Lendlease and Tafe were another recipient 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 500’s apprentice and 50th Indigenous apprentice at the Barangaroo development site. Barangaroo is the site of the new Crown Casino.
So that’s that for now.