Nov 6, 2012

Sydney’s new airport ambitions shut down

Brisbane and Melbourne ought to erect statues in honor of NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell as his government kills off growth in flights to Sydney.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

The long anticipated NSW government approval of a housing estate just over the state line near Canberra that will cripple the national capital’s airport creates huge opportunities for new economic growth in Melbourne and Brisbane.

For those who may have been on Mars in recent years, this is because the Barry O’Farrell government in NSW sees Sydney’s 2nd airport as being Canberra airport connected by a fast rail network but has also decided to approve a housing development over the border near Queanbeyan which will prevent this ever happening.

The consequences of this decision are dire for NSW but will be welcomed in Queensland and Victoria, and because no city can prosper and grow without convenient and competitive air services, it will inevitably downgrade Sydney as a centre for the business and leisure travel and deprive it, and the state, of the economic activity that supports government revenues as well as jobs.

As anyone who is observing current proceedings in the anti-corruption ICAC hearings in Sydney could conclude, where past Labor governments appeared to have been corrupt, the new conservative state government is stupid, and apparently clueless about, and deaf to, the needs of business and the opportunities of the Asian Century.

In truth, Canberra was never going to be Sydney’s 2nd airport anymore than either Paris airport is going to be an alternative to any London Airport, and London and Paris are connected by a frequent and fast high speed rail service.  Canberra is about 40% of the way to Melbourne or the Queensland border from Sydney Airport, even on a good day, and Premier O’Farrell’s delusional pronouncements about making it Sydney’s 2nd airport were a public embarrassment, which at least he has ended by taking steps to totally stuff up Canberra Airport.

But Canberra could have used its airport as a foundation for a hopefully well planned expansion of the city into a much larger centre for business, public administration, learning and tourism than it is today, especially for those enterprises that might find a location where Sydney was a side trip was a more viable option that being located in Sydney and suffering from its infrastructure failings, which include port, rail and highway links, and a disgracefully neglected public transport system.

O’Farrell is wrecking that ambition as well. Sydney is stuffed, and so is Canberra, unless it goes down the path of finding its own 2nd airport site, which we can safely assume, will not be in Sydney.

The current minority Federal government ought not be let off over its unintended supporting role in this dark comedy of fools. Having secured total ownership of what is the obvious site for a 2nd Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek, it insists that it should instead built somewhere near Wilton, an inferior site in terms of accessibility from Sydney, where all the good bits are now under fully or partly constructed housing estates, as well as being located in catchment zones for part of Sydney’s water supply, and located very close to and even above extensive coal mining leases which in most cases, continue to be developed.

It is often said that air services to Sydney are critical to the entire Australian economy. That 1960s mind set has been literally outflown by the rise of point-to-point air services that can connect Melbourne or Brisbane non-stop to all of northern, eastern and central Asia and most of the Americas. Perth has always been tricky for airline route planning given its remoteness from alternative airports, but its rising economic importance and new generation airliners are similarly laying siege to the legacy of second rate policy settings that have screwed up its airport potential for decades.  Perth, like Sydney, deserves better, but unlike Sydney, seems certain to get it.

In this broader context, no-one should feel sorry for Sydney, or particularly worried about its problems. It is time for the rest of the country to move on.

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19 thoughts on “Sydney’s new airport ambitions shut down

  1. comet

    For O’Farrell, ruining Canberra airport is of no consequence.

    His previous statement about making Canberra Airport the gateway to Sydney was always a furphy. O’Farrell never believe it himself. It was just a convenient excuse to get the media off his tail.

    Why should O’Farrell care if Canberra airport is ruined? The ACT is in someone else’s jurisdiction. A Labor jurisdiction at that. It’s a situation where the Federal government should step in to stop the housing development, as O’Farrell will have no incentive to stop it.

  2. Roger

    Ben, down here in Melbourne we welcome business and tourists alike. We have a 24 hour airport (Tulla) with room to expand. We’re happy to take all the growth away from Sydney. Who knows, this could make an airport-rail link to the city cost effective.

  3. 2353

    Ben, up here is Brisvegas we welcome business and tourists alike. We have three airports capable of international flights within about 300km of each other with some expansion room and all three would welcome the opportunity to take growth away from Sydney. Who knows it could make the existing airport rail link from the middle airport viable for users.

    The only fly in the ointment is that the current State Government seems to want to put the state into recession through higher unemployment and lack of infrastructure investment (so the extension of the rail to the Gold Coast Airport is probably further away than it was 12 months ago).

  4. Aidan Stanger

    I’m not so sure. Of course it’s a bad decision, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will dictate future policy. Of the large airports, it’s only Adelaide and Sydney that have curfews. Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth have taken the attitude that if people buy a house under the flightpath, they should expect aircraft noise.

  5. fractious

    I shouldn’t be at all surprised if one or more Commonwealth govt departments stepped in and either overruled NSW or got Hazzard (what an appropriate name for the Minister for Planning) to make significant changes to the rezoning. Bear in mind this is (at the moment) an approaval to rezone the land and not development consent (which will be a whole new Pandora’s box). AFAICT the Cth hasn’t approved environmental protection matters yet, and I would bet my hat noise levels will figure in there somewhere.

  6. Bill Parker

    And to take Aidan’s comment further, suburbs near our three airports (Pearce RAAF included) are sprinkled with signs warning about noise. All you have to do is read them.

  7. Hamis Hill

    Former and first NSW Greens MLC Ian Cohen promoted a second airport on the fog-free high ground just north of Goulburn and conveniently parallel to the Hume Highway.
    Fits in perfectly with the high speed rail option and develops a NSW city.
    From memory this ground looks like just a bunch of rocks so the acquisition costs will be much lower than Sydney Basin or ACT land.
    So the beneficiaries of massive public spending on the more expensive airport schemes appear to have been very successful in “paying” to have Cohen’s Airport option ignored?
    People really must pay more attention to motive and opportunity in the committing of crimes like defrauding the public purse.

  8. Geoff

    Folks – Surely something is going on here. We are all quick to decry our representatives as pork-barreling idiocracy but they are far from actually being stupid.

    The operators of Sydney Airport and it’s most active customer, Qantas, will have permanent lobbyists positioned to influence every thought bubble that B O’Farrell or A Albanese float. There are enormous amounts of money at stake.

    Sydney Airport want to sweat their resource and safeguard their capital. They are not interested in a second Sydney Airport unless they profit from it. They have new vision for their airport which locks the two major airlines into massive expenditure for hangers and re-built, extended, refurbished terminals. What period of time will they need to get their money back on that expenditure?

    The two politicians want to be re-elected and clearly are playing a game centred on when the next State and Federal elections are planned. (They will know when, we do not) They have taken up opposing positions which for O’Farrell can be translated into abolishing the curfew and movement caps on Sydney Airport – nothing else adds up.

    Alabanese seem caught in the pincers. He has the power to make Sydney Airport both less congested and more profitable, however I heard last night that he has told the two majors that running turbo-props with pax during the curfew, the next obvious step, will be banned by his Government. He has the power and the money (ours!) to develop a new Sydney Airport but is being dared by NSW to do either and give the Liberals the weapon they need to win many elections into the future.

    Can Mr Albanese find a way around the impasse and come out looking like the people’s hero? I reckon we will find out next year a bit closer to the election and whatever it is it will be designed to ensure he keeps his seat.

    So something is going on but I don’t think any amount of commonsense is going to help us work out what it might be!

  9. Archer1

    Hamis, the land at Badgery’s Creek is already owned by the Commonwealth!Forget high speed rail, we cant even build slow speed rail in NSW. The Federal labor government is just postponing the airport decision(as always) until its someone elses problem. No government, State or Federal has the guts to make the commitment.Simple as that.

  10. Ben Sandilands

    Living in the SW part of the southern highlands village strip I’m aware of a number of very good sites for an airport around here from a technical perspective. And not opposed to any of them should the necessary population and economic activity arise to support any of them.

    The issue I have is the notion that somehow it is competitive to build remote airports (as in four to five times as remote as say Narita from Tokyo Central) to serve a city where the cities that will compete with it for economic activity have airports which are convenient.

    It doesn’t matter if the train does 300 kmh from a station in the Sydney CBD to a remote site if the time taken to get to the CBD terminal is two hours, which is what it takes to get across the Sydney basin on a typical congested day, and then try to find parking if you actually drove there, and then wait for a train, and then spend what will still be the best part of an hour in the train, especially if you are coming inbound, have been in the plane for 22 hours, and have a strong desire to burn your clothes, and then go through the train dance, waiting, travelling, connecting and so forth.

    An airport somewhere near Marulan for a local city of 500,000 people and a vibrant economy is one thing, and it may well happen, perhaps before technology renders runways obsolete, but for Sydney to ignore something much closer and immediate to the source of the need to travel, and spend moon mission sums supporting a remote airport that people will avoid to the extent of relocating their businesses to Melbourne or Brisbane, is, in my view, not on.

  11. James InOz

    A new runway built in Botany Bay pointing straight out the entrance of Botany Bay could operate 24/7 if the aircraft arrived and left to the East, going over the entrance to Botany Bay.

  12. Ben Sandilands

    Such a second east-west runway is highly desirable, and should have been done at the same time the then single north-south runway was extended to take fully laden 747s.

    But there is a terrible problem. The political restrictions which limit movements to 80 and hour and impose a curfew apply to the entire airport, whether it has one runway or four.

  13. Hamis Hill

    If indeed, as you say ARCHER1, the land at Badgery’s Creek is already owned by the Commonwealth then it must now be worth an absolute fortune as residential land.
    Recently a friend flew to Paris from the Gold Coast airport which was very convenient compared to Brisbane for people living in Northern NSW.
    So perhaps the convenience of a central Sydney Airport is overrated.
    Liverpool-Parramatta, no matter how despised by the “luck of the generational draw” coastal dwellers, is the new centre of population for Sydney, so Goulburn to Liverpool does not look too shabby and there is already a railway running through there anyway.
    There is a Goulburn-Bathurst road connection which if properly upgraded and linked through Goulburn-Canberra to the Coast at Batemans Bay and Nowra would open up a lot of fairly pleasant living for a large number of people.
    There has to be a limit of growth for Sydney and Governments and Infrastructure Ministers should bite this Bullet even if it isn’t a bullet train.
    Sydney fifty years ago was idyllic, now it is just an overpopulated and polluted hell hole, though some people might find that convenient, I am sure the majority do not.

  14. fractious

    @ Geoff, yes, it’s politicking at its most base and short-sighted level. I think that’s something that comes through most of Ben’s posts (even if it isn’t the major point).

    @ Hamis, AFAICT the major problem is that the great bulk of international (and domestic for all I know) business and holiday travellers will still want to get to Kingsford Smith (KS), since for NSW at least that’s the hub for connecting domestic or int’l flights. Wherever you put a second airport within an 1.5hr drive of Sydney you still have to ensure good, reliable and fast modes of mass transport to both KS and the city, and that’s something this country is notoriously crap at. More roads are not the solution – investment in rail ought to be but isn’t in general. Certainly the Cth still owns the lands at Badgery’s Ck and that alone makes it the sensible option: what reinforces it is that State Rail is currently building a SouthWest link that will finish just west of Leppington. With a little encouragement and the promise of substantial passenger revenue, it can’t be that hard to get NSW to extend it to Badgery’s Creek.

    See SW Rail Link

  15. fractious

    @ Hamis, I’ve got a post in moderation (prolly cos I put a link in) that addresses some of your points. Aside from that, you say Sydney is “just an overpopulated and polluted hell hole”.

    I disagree – a hell hole yes, but not overpopulated. It feels like that sometimes, but that’s simply bad planning (or no planning at all). Cities overseas are much mroe densely populated than Sydney, yet many are not hell holes. Why? Because they have (or at least had) national governments (and in some cases city-wide authorities) that could see past 3 or 4 elections into the future and thought about population growth and infrastructure and housing and aesthetics, and employed people with a bit of vision and courage.

    Sydney (and Australia in general, in my experience) hasn’t, and doesn’t, and the results are no more plainly seen than in the bungling shitfight that is Sydney’s second airport. That this country plainly does not lack talent or vision makes these sins all the worse.

  16. ltfisher

    I am pleased that for once a State authority has not bowed to the airport owner. This issue is not about aircraft noise: it’s about power. The owners of Canberra Airport have enjoyed the ability to ‘develop’ the land on which the airport sits without any interference from the ACT. Hence we have a large commercial/retail facility which has distorted the market for such facilities elsewhere in the ACT. Not content with exercising that power they wish to control who can do what [in the present case build houses] on land well outside the airport block. The NSW government has at last said no. The local council supports new housing, present resident groups near the flight path don’t object, even the local state member is on side. The approval conditions are very stringent and there can be no claim by future residents that there is a noise problem as they will made well aware of where they are moving before building/buying. I guess the real problem for the present airport owners is that they now have an airport terminal twice as large as needed, and a big debt to service. It’s another example of what happens to those who are cargo cult believers.

  17. Ben Sandilands

    I don’t think Bathurst needs an airport near Goulburn, but it could in the future find a regional turbo-prop service to Canberra from Bathurst airport useful for connections from Canberra to other parts of Australia. We are seeing signs of Dubbo getting 737 sized services, and both it and the northern tablelands towns might well find Canberra as well as Brisbane flights more useful than connections over Sydney.

    This was an idea advanced strongly in the early 90s, but ahead of its time. I think that time is now drawing closer.

    BTW the road between Bathurst and Goulburn does come with snow surprises, and that extra three or four hundred metres of elevation can ambush the incautious on the back roads around here compared to what might just be another cold and rainy winters day along the highlands.

  18. Hamis Hill

    Ben, good points but isn’t the scenery great between Bathurst and Goulburn, with great potential for Tassie style mixed farming with niche products for air freighted exports.
    But isn’t there a jet standard airport in Cowra servicing the Bathurst-Dubbo area?
    There is a whole vast semicircle of opportunity stretching from the Hunter through Dubbo and down through Goulburn-Caberra to the South Coast that is deprived of development by the Sydney centric Megalopolis mindset and the incredible drain on the economy of the concommitant exorbitant real-estate prices.
    Perhaps regional domestic airtravel is being overlooked in the infrastructure mix.
    The areas might open up when foreign capital investment from Asia starts pouring in; Aussies could do it, but all their money is buried in Sydney McMansions.

  19. SBH

    James InOz, I think your geography is a bit off. Botany Bay’s mouth is to the South of the current airport. an eastern approach would come in low over suburbs.

    Just on the point of noise, I grew up under the planes and the noise is not something to be lightly ignored. Until our more affluent cousins got to hear it with the opening of the third runway they all seemed pretty content to let lower income families endure the noise.

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