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Sydney Airport (Botany Bay) expansion plan has hitches

There are two very big problems with NSW Treasurer Mike Baird’s plan for a Botany Bay expansion of Sydney Airport, despite its advantages when it was first proposed more than 50 years ago.

1: No matter how many runways Sydney Airport gets, it is legally limited to 80 flights an hour, and

2: It is useless for serving the western half of Sydney, which is generating massive and growing demand

There are of course other issues including the excessive concentration of additional flights, and ground access congestion, that would arise if the laws that limit air traffic frequency at the existing pocket sized Sydney Airport were to be repealed.

The idea of developing an airport on the southern shore of Botany Bay began in the late 1940s when Bill Bradfield, the youngest son of the chief engineer and joint designer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Dr JJ Bradfield, headed the public administration of aviation in Australia and proposed a combined flying boat and airliner hub at Towra Point, a prominent sand spit on the western side of the bay that stretches much of the way toward Sandringham.

At the time, long range flying boats were part of the future of post war airline plans world wide, and Sydney had a second airport in the form of the flying boat base at Rose Bay, which for much of the harbourside population, was a noisy nuisance, if spectacular for passengers on the Manly ferries when a roaring double decker four engined flying boat charged past them.

Just before the start of this century Bill Bradfield and the IAC advisory group proposed what was in effect a very large expansion of Sydney Airport’s capacity on the southern shores of Botany Bay, parallel to Towra point and some distance to the SW of Kurnell, even though it was often described as the Kurnell option.

It could have equally been called the Wanda Beach or Greenhills option, since the southern end of the main runway for the plan would have reached the northern edge of the remnant sand dunes that separated Botany Bay and its mangrove shores from the long line of surf breaks that stretched toward Kurnell from Wanda Beach.

The writer became a friend of Bradfield in the years before his death in 2006. In that time Bradfield often discussed the potential for shifting smaller regional turbo-props and jets to a single runway parallel to headings of the main north-south runway at Sydney Airport but located to the east of Towra Point and to the west of the edge of the desalination plant.

The merit of this much less costly proposal was that if those aircraft could be considered as not included in the 80 movement limit because of their negligible noise their relocation would add significant capacity to the main airport by removing country flights from the mix.

It was also proposed that a road and rail tunnel or bridge could link Kurnell to La Perouse under or over the mouth of Botany Bay, allowing not just easy connections between the satellite terminal and runway with the main airport, but triggering a major change in the transport map and population distribution of greater Sydney by connecting the Cronulla-Sutherland peninsula on the southern side of Botany Bay to the eastern suburbs and CBD of Sydney by a new and more efficient route, with the potential to extend the eastern suburbs railway from Bondi Junction down along its originally planned route to Kingsford to continue beyond to La Perouse and then on to link into the rail line at Cronulla.

Any connection between Kurnell and La Perouse is going to dramatically transform Sydney, with or without an airport component.

The most important revelation in the Telegraph’s story is one which has been touched on here in recent times, which is that there is no practicable site for a 2nd Sydney Airport at Wilton, which is currently under study at the direction of the federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, after his rejection of the endorsement by an independent panel of the site the Commonwealth already owns at Badgerys Creek.

There was a site at Wilton. It now has housing estates on it. The other nearby sites are too undulating to be seriously considered from an engineering point of view, and compared to Badgerys Creek, Wilton is very second rate in its location and relevance to the air travel market.

Sydney has a choice in airport policy. Build Badgerys Creek, or choke.

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  • 1
    fractious
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Just more smoke and mirrors from Fatty O’Barrell’s Club of Idiots, I don’t for a minute suppose any of them are remotely serious about this. And if state and Federal politicians think Badgerys Ck is a political hot potato they’ll need welding gloves for the fallout if they ever try putting this one over.

  • 2
    ozFinn
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I wonder if the Ramsar convention which makes Towra Point an internationally protected wetland will present any problem to this plan…

  • 3
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    In the diagram published with the Telegraph report there is what looks like a token wildlife habitat annotation at the margins of the runway.

    This puzzled me a bit, since the migratory bird refuge is on adjacent Towra Point.

    The natural history of Towra Point is interesting. In the 40s and 50s it was a barren sand spit and as I understand it, only a recently formed or enlarged feature, and there apparently were no migratory birds, as they had chosen to make their southern refuges in the RNP to south, where they still also congregate in the reedy in shore lakes behind Big Marley beach. (A great place to observe bird life to this day.)

    However when Towra Point vegetated it also acquired the migratory birds.

    In my opinion, we need to be very, very, careful and respectful and protective of Towra Point for these reasons, and right across the Royal National Park for that matter, which is prone to bushfire disruption.

    My family lived at Grays Point at one time, and we had a strong interest in such things.

  • 4
    comet
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Kurnell would be an incredibly expensive solution, involving undersea rail/road tunnels.

    Whichever government wins the next federal election should, at the beginning of its term of government, quickly pave some sort of a small runway at Badgery’s Creek, of the minimum standard necessary to accept regional turbo props. Tell everyone it’s a regional airport.

    The noise of the props won’t be as bad as people were expecting, and once it’s done they’ll forget about it before the following federal election.

  • 5
    fractious
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    @ OzFinn re Ramsar convention presenting problems to development, probably not. It’s an international convention with no legislative clout. Almost all of the vegetation communities, most of the fauna habitats and many flora and fauna species at Towra Point are listed under Commonwealth and state conservation legislation, but that wouldn’t stop any hypothetical airport extension either.

  • 6
    cud chewer
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    Well, if Sydney Airport has a strict limit on flights per hour (and I’m not sure that cannot be changed) then why not go one more logical step and rebuild the whole thing on the other side of Botany Bay – 3 brand new runways.

    Moves a lot of noise out of the suburbs, frees up a lot of expensive real estate (a few billion would be handy) and gives everyone a brand shiny new airport.

    Yay! :)

    Btw, I’m still not against Badgery’s Creek as a 2nd airport provided they get real about compensation, and not just for a few Km near the airport, but over the 30Km swath of the likely noise footprint.

    And if they’re going to consider Wilton, there’s still nothing stopping them moving that airport another 5Km or so to the south east – plenty of escarpment, and lots of unpopulated area to soak up noise.

  • 7
    Chad Henshaw
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Sounds like we have a solution then. The NSW government funds a new aeroplane maker that will focus on Flying boats – making them the cool way to fly again. No more runway problems anywhere in the world….

    Or maybe I’ve just watched too much TaleSpin….

  • 8
    Krungthep Kris
    Posted November 16, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Why doesn’t the airport expand to Kurnell and have fast transfer train under botany bay, now that the refinery is closing!

  • 9
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted November 17, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    The refinery is being replaced by a fuel depot.

    The limitations placed on the airport apply to the airport, not to the size of the airport or number of runways, meaning you get no benefit from extra runways.

    Even if that could be fixed, and it sure needs to be, there is a very substantial need for an airport in western Sydney, 50 kilometres away, from where it can all too often take two hours to get to the current airport.

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