Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull achieved what many believed was impossible today, signing off on plans for the Badgerys Creek airport in Sydney’s west.
The agreement comes 30 years after the Hawke government choose the area, 41km west of Kingsford Smith airport on Botany Bay, as the site of Sydney’s second airport and began buying up the surrounding land. The area was first recommended seven years earlier in 1979.
The proposal has faced fierce opposition over subsequent decades with the Howard government essentially sidelining the matter in 2000, and Labor subsequently ruling out support for Badgerys Creek despite acknowledging a second airport was needed by 2030.
Today’s approval of the Airport Plan means the construction of Stage 1, with a single 3.7km east-west runway, can begin on the 1,800ha site. The $3 billion airport, which will operate without a curfew, unlike Kingsford Smith, which essentially closes between 11pm and 6am, is expected to open in the mid-2020s. It’s expected to cater for 5 million passengers annually when it opens and 10 million within five years. A second parallel runway is proposed for around 2050, amid forecasts that up to 80 million passengers – double the current use at Kingsford Smith – will pass through the airport every year.
Sydney’s main airport is expected to reach capacity by 2027.
The prime minister said the project “will become a catalyst for investment and industry in Western Sydney”.
It will deliver 9,000 new jobs to Western Sydney by the early 2030s, and 60,000 in the long-term,” he said.
Stage 1 at Badgery’s creek includes a single terminal for domestic and international flights, plus a separate cargo terminal. While $3.6 billion is currently being spent to improve road access in the area, federal infrastructure minister Paul Fletcher said no rail line will be ready for when the airport opens, saying the catchment area when it opens will be around two million people.
A tunnel is earmarked as part of the plan for a future underground rail link, but it’s expected to take eight years to build and take 10 million passengers.
Fletcher told Sky News that “rail is not something that can be justified just on the basis of the airport numbers in the early years”.
A scoping study will look at when a rail link will open, he said, pointing out that Kingsford Smith did not get a rail link until the Sydney Olympics.
“The airport is being planned to be rail ready,” he said.
But no flight paths, a key concern to many in the surrounding regions, including the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains, have been released as part of the stage 1 plans.
Here’s what the Department of Infrastructure says about the issue:
Designing and finalising flight paths is a large and complex task that takes several years to complete. Before the opening of the proposed Western Sydney Airport, a comprehensive airspace planning and design process will be undertaken, with ongoing community consultation and a focus on minimising flights over residential areas.
The department says the nearest residential properties are 10.5km from the proposed airport, unlike Kingsford Smith, where the gap is 600 metres.
Prime minister Turnbull said environment minister Josh Frydenberg looked at “the findings of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and strict conditions have been placed on the airport’s development”.
Initial work will focus on earthmoving, with around 22 million cubic metres of soil needing to be moved to flatten the site, which rises by up to 70 metres. Work is expected to get under way by the end of 2018.
The full Airport Plan is available online here.