Sydney Airport protest spotlights ‘Kurnell’ options
Today’s anti Wilton airport rally on the SSW extremities of Sydney’s urban sprawl heard calls, among other suggestions, for the use of land currently occupied by the obsolete Caltex oil refinery at Kurnell to build a satellite airport to cope with growth at the nearby main Sydney Airport.
This is close to the sites identified by the Bradfield and IAC plan in the late 90s and early years of this century. It was drawn up by the late Bill Bradfield, an engineer and distinguished aviation administrator whose career extended from the post war years and well into the earlier decades of the jet age.
For those who have followed the 2nd Sydney Airport saga for a lifetime, Kurnell is intriguing at several levels.
It could make Sydney Airport much more efficient than it is by creating a fourth runway, parallel to but displaced to the SW of the centre lines of its two north-south runways and on the southern shore of Botany Bay.
However it was not really in Kurnell, in Bradfield’s vision, but nearer to the eastern side of Towra Point and depending on its length, suitable for regional jets and turbo-props, or for the largest aircraft flying.
This naturally involved linking the satellite airport to the main airport, and in my meetings with him before he died in 2006, Bradfield had in mind a road and possibly additional rail runnel that would link the Kurnell area to La Perouse by passing under the ocean entrance to Botany Bay and then on to Port Botany and the current airport as well as in effect extending Anzac Parade to the Cronulla-Sutherland peninsula.
Tunnels were considered preferable to bridging the entrance to Botany Bay with enough clearance for the largest ships ever likely to be relevant to Port Botany. (In my opinion, riding a bike or taking a train over such a bridge would command the most splendid of views of the Illawarra escarpment and Royal National Park coastline to the south, and the eastern suburbs beaches and distant Sydney Harbour headlands to the north. In the palaces of the future, of course.)
Such a physical link between Kurnell and La Perouse would also suggest to transport planners the merits of completing the Eastern Suburbs Railway not just to Kingsford, one station past the UNSW campus, as originally intended, but linking it the metropolitan railway at Cronulla, creating road and rail links that would revolutionise the transport demographics of SE Sydney perhaps as much as the Sydney Harbour Bridge did by connecting North Sydney to the CBD by road, rail, and in the bridge’s earlier decades, by trams that ran where the Cahill Expressway lanes are today on the eastern side of the bridge.
The significance of such links weren’t lost on Bill Bradfield, who was a friend and wise counsel, whose father JJ Bradfield was the Chief Engineer of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Metropolitan Railway Construction project, overseeing the design and construction of the Sydney electric railway network and proposing the Manly Warringah and Southern Surburban lines among others, that were never built but for symbolic sections of tunnel at North Sydney station and in ghost platform foundations parallel to those of the eastern suburbs line platforms under Redfern Station.
It is reasonable to suggest that Cronulla-Sutherland and La Perouse will be linked whether or not a Bradfield satellite airport is ever built near Kurnell. Such a linkage leaps up from the map if one asks what a Sydney of eight million, or maybe 28 million, people will look like in 30 to 100 years from now.
The major obstacle to the satellite airport proposal, apart from political inertia, is that even though it wouldn’t be joined to the existing airport, it would potentially load the existing inner city air traffic corridors with 50-60% more flights, given the similar but slightly displaced configurations of the combined runways, which in terms of Sydney Airport’s cap on activity and the curfew are immovable political barriers.
This means that there would be a political imperative to include the satellite airport in the Sydney Airport restrictions, and no-one is going to build extra runways that can’t be used to lift the main airport’s permitted flight limits.
Which means Wilton can’t be saved by developing an airport where Caltex is, or where Bill Bradfield proposed putting a satellite airport, unless all of the restrictions on the existing Sydney Airport were lifted, opening the way for using new nearby runways to treble or even quadruple traffic through two airports working in tandem on opposite sides of Botany Bay.