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HOT TOPIC: The Airport Wars

Apr 20, 2012Hot Topic

Traffic gridlock, air travel delays, lost jobs, slowed economic growth and a return to the concentration of aircraft noise that plagued Sydney in the 1990s – according to a new study this is the scenario facing Sydney if immediate action is not taken to build a second airport in Sydney.

This urgent call for action is nothing new. For more than half a century (yes it really has been that long) Sydneysiders have listened with a mixture of frustration and bored resignation as federal and state pollies, local councils and community groups bicker back and forth about the location of a second airport.

Chairman of the Sydney Airports Corporation (SAC) Max Moore-Wilton has this week thrown his two cents’ worth into the seemingly endless discussion. Unsurprisingly he says the current airport is sufficient until 2049 and the solution was to “restructure” Sydney Airport and lift the cap of hourly movements from 80 to 85 – an idea categorically ruled out by just about everyone involved in the debate.

Mr Moore-Wilton aside, most people agree that Sydney Airport is out of it’s depth. One of the oldest continually operated airports in the world, (it’s first official flight was in 1920), Sydney Airport is less than half the size of Tullamarine in Melbourne and a third the size of Brisbane airport. Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese pointed out that limitations on Sydney airport are already hurting the economy, and by 2035, the cost to national GDP of turning away flights will be $6 billion, and nearly six times more by 2060.

Fifty-one kilometres west of the CBD, Badgerys Creek has been identified by the most recent study as the best option. A second airport was almost built there after the site was purchased by the Hawke government in the 1980s. The first sod of earth turned in 1992, but the funding was revoked by the Howard government in 1996 and the project shrivelled and died.

It may be the best practical option, but the local population has grown significantly over the last 20 years – a potential nightmare for Premier O’Farrell who would have to fend off outraged locals. As a result O’Farrell has proposed to shift the problem to someone else’s backyard, suggesting Canberra airport should be expanded and linked to Sydney via a fast train – at an estimated cost of $30 billion!

This idea has been met with howls of derision from both Albanese and federal shadow treasurer Joe Hockey who says it’s an absurd idea that people would happily to travel 300km by train to get to the airport.

The runner-up site is Wilton. Eighty kilometres south-west of the CBD, it’s further out but is less populated and has the endorsement of Albanese and Hockey who both support a fast train to the city. The problem is that the federal government can’t move without the support of O’Farrell and it’s rumoured that he may be considering attempting to scuttle both Badgerys and Wilton by opening them up to housing developments.

To get an agreement will require some tricky negotiation between federal Labor and O’Farrell, who at the same time risks alienating his federal Liberal colleagues like Hockey with his opposition to the second airport. Best not to hold your breath on this one…

What do you think is the solution to the problem? Fast train? Second airport? Post your comments here.