The Badgerys Creek airport debate has divided opinions across the nation for more than 40 years, but it seems now the epicentre of tension is the Western Sydney region itself.
Traditionally, advocacy for the Badgerys Creek site has come from voices outside the region. Subsequently they have been criticised for failing to consider what is in the best interests of the people of Western Sydney.
However, the surprise turnaround of several community groups, in particular the region’s peak body of councils, have put the Badgerys Creek debate back in the limelight.
Since taking office last year, president of the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, Tony Hadchiti has led an allied community campaign for a revised environmental assessment of the Badgerys Creek site.
The most recent environmental impact statement, published in 1997, showed that the construction of an airport at the Badgerys Creek site would pose a number of problems, both environmentally and socially, to the region.
Although he has fallen short of expressing support for the site until further studies are conducted, Cr Hadchiti believes a revised environmental impact statement would support construction of an airport in Badgerys Creek.
“I think all things are leading to Badgerys Creek, without saying that I support it, because at the moment I don’t [support it] until we see the revised reports and studies but it seems that all roads are leading to Badgerys Creek,” he said.
In a coalition with the Western Sydney Community Forum, the Trade Unions movement and the Western Sydney branch of the NSW Business Chamber, WSROC’s call for a revised EIS overturns the organisation’s 30-year-old tough, no-airport stance.
However, Deputy Mayor of the Blue Mountains City Council, Mark Greenhill, who held the presidency of WSROC in previous years, has scorned the move. He says Cr Hadchiti has breached the existing policy against the interests of the organisation.
“I think he is being arrogant towards the policy of the organisation he leads, he breaches it every day he makes these statements about Badgerys Creek,” he said.
“He effectively started this hare running and he ought to be taken out of the position.”
Cr Hadchiti says he has spoken with several members of the community and found public consciousness is increasingly leaning in favour of the Badgerys site.
However, Cr Greenhill is certain that the community would oppose WSROC’s new stance and believes increased movement towards the construction of an airport on this site would lead to mass demonstrations similar to those seen in the 1990s and early 2000s.
“I’ve been in public life since the 1990s, unlike the current president of WSROC who’s been here for five minutes, and I can tell you the community will not support an airport at Badgerys Creek,” Cr Greenhill said.
“My constituents out here tell me everyday that an airport at Badgerys Creek is simply unacceptable. The community will not cop it.”
An early 2000s protest against the planned airport at Badgerys Creek
Photo: Andrew Taylor, Source: The Sydney Morning Herald.
The NSW Business Chamber’s Western Sydney Director, David Borger, who has consistently supported the construction of the Badgerys Creek airport, believes the demand for jobs in the region will be enough to garner community support.
With an employment shortfall of 200,000 and population set to double from two million to four million by 2051, federal government studies conducted in March last year found an airport in Badgerys Creek would provide a much needed economic boost to the region.
“The people of Western Sydney want jobs and there’s an increasing understanding that the jobs aren’t coming,” Mr Borger said.
“Manufacturing is not coming to the rescue, it is a dying industry. We know the engine of growth for our economy will probably be technology-based industry, but there is almost none of that in any great amount in Western Sydney, so we need to look at realistic measures which will help generate jobs and an airport is one of them.”
While Cr Greenhill concedes that a Badgerys Creek airport would be advantageous to the local economy, he believes the costs far outweigh the benefits.
“There’s no doubt it would bring an economic boost, but at what cost? If our quality of life is diminished, if we’re breathing a toxic mix of aircraft and motor vehicle pollution in around Emu Plains, if we have clogged roads and noise impacts, we’re going to see a greatly diminished quality of life for the vast majority of residents in Western Sydney,” he said.
“While there will be jobs, most residents of Western Sydney won’t see those jobs, they’ll obviously go to a minority but all residents of Western Sydney will see the negative impacts.
“The business community just care about the fast buck, they’re not interested in the people,” he added.
However Mr Borger rejects this perspective, arguing that the airport would give Western Sydney an economic edge that would provide opportunity and ensure the longevity of the growing metropolitan hub.
“To characterise this as something which is just about someone’s profit is completely wrong, it’s actually about the future of an entire region and their opportunities,” he said.
He says the combined support of a variety of different groups indicates that construction of the Badgerys Creek airport would be in the best interest of the region as a whole.
“It’s a strange event when the business community, the union movement and the social workers are joining together to say that this is something that will help our community. It’s a community effort, not just for one group,” he said.
“What’s important is to show our political leaders that the community will get behind this airport and support it, and that’s what we’re trying to do, we’re forming a coalition, an alliance with other groups.”
Despite this, Cr Greenhill believes government funding ought to be directed to addressing the problem of insufficient infrastructure in the region, “without the toxic mix of traffic, noise and air pollution that comes from an airport”.
Recent studies have found that the region’s current infrastructure could not address the requirements of a second airport in Western Sydney. In particular, traffic congestion along the M2, M4, M5 and M7 motorways is already a significant problem for the community.
“It amazes me that Badgerys is being talked about, when there simply isn’t the road infrastructure to support Western Sydney as it is now, let alone an airport that may be bringing an extra two or three million people into the joint,” Cr Greenhill said.
Cr Hadchiti agrees that funding for infrastructure upgrades must be taken into account when considering the construction of an airport in the region.
However, Mr Borger suggests the problem of traffic congestion and insufficient infrastructure would be alleviated rather than augmented by an airport at the Badgerys Creek site.
He says the 200,000 Western Sydney residents who currently travel to the CBD for work each day would benefit from the creation of jobs within the region, therefore reducing motorway congestion during the notorious morning and afternoon peak hours.
It is this congestion that most concerns Campbelltown resident, Mark Anderson, who battles through gridlock traffic along the M5 in his travel to work in North Sydney five days a week.
“The motorway out here is an absolute car park during peak hour, Western Sydney frankly does not have the roads infrastructure to support the extra influx of traffic that would come with an airport,” he said.
“I’m not opposed to the airport at all. I can see that it would bring a great boost to the local economy and provide good opportunities for the area but before we consider building an airport at Badgerys Creek, we need to make sure the region has the right infrastructure in place.”
Mr Anderson says the prospect of overhead aircraft noise does not concern him too greatly.
“It’s the first thing to concern some people, but I doubt they’d put flight paths directly over dense residential areas,” he said.
“Given advances in aviation technology, I really don’t think aircraft noise or pollution would be such an issue for Western Sydney.”
Penrith resident Mitchell Cohen holds a similar view and expects any aircraft noise would eventually fade into the background.
“Everyone’s always going to complain about it being noisy and whatnot, but I imagine after a while it would just become white noise, it’s not going to be that much of concern,” he said.
However, the Blue Mountains City Council is less optimistic. Cr Greenhill says studies have shown that aircraft noise could reach up to 66 decibels in lower parts of the Blue Mountains, which is “equivalent to standing a few feet from a lawn mower, all day, every day.”
For the Blue Mountains City Council, the impacts of noise and air pollution would significantly compromise the quality of life for Western Sydney residents.
“It’s not my role to say where the second airport ought to be but as a civic leader, it is my role to protect the community here and Badgerys Creek would be an unacceptable proposition,” Cr Greenhill said.
Despite their varying opinions, Cr Hadchiti, Cr Greenhill and Mr Borger agree the issue will remain unaddressed by federal politicians until after September’s election.
“It comes down to the government trying to ensure their political future is safe. When you have a lot of people against something, it’s hard to make a call in that area no matter what the project is,” Cr Hadchiti said.
“Now that we’re leading into a federal election, I can’t see us getting an announcement in relation to Badgerys Creek, because if either party were to come out in support, in effect it could cost them votes.”
With Wilton, the ALP’s preferred site, effectively ruled out by federal government studies conducted earlier this month, it is difficult to predict how this issue will play out following the election.
Until then, it seems this debate will continue to divide opinion within the ever-expanding Western Sydney region.