Could Kurnell be second Sydney Airport site?

Opinion and Analysis

By Simon Sharwood

Debate over whether Sydney needs a new airport has run for thirty years and will probably run for another thirty. Along the way it has become a symbol for policy cowardice, the power of NIMBYism and Australia's sclerotic decision-making process.

It's therefore time for a combination of callousness, vision and lateral thinking to break the deadlock.

I think it can be done for the tiny price tag of about $1.5 billion, for which Sydney gets a 24×7 airport, $250 million worth of brand new, healthy, green, community facilities a lot of happy people.

Sydney airport is controversial because it is surrounded by people and their ears. Within a kilometre of its northern, eastern and western boundaries are densely-populated suburbs.

One oft-used flight path starts in the city's north and spreads noise over several safe Liberal electorates – including Bennelong, once held by John Howard – en route to the runway. One electorate adjacent to the airport is held by Labor's Transport Minister Anthony Albanese.

To ameliorate the noise, the airport operates under a “noise sharing” arrangement that promises residents of the noisiest suburbs “respite hours” during which planes will fly beyond the reach of their ears.

There's also an 11pm to 6am curfew during which very few aircraft movements are allowed, in order not to disturb all those ears.

Allowing, or even discussing, more aircraft noise anywhere near those ear-packed suburbs means swift and horrible political death.

But to the airport's south is the suburb of Kurnell, a locale already home to unlovely industrial infrastructure like an oil terminal and a desalination plant. Australia's latest census notes that the suburb is home to 723 dwellings, housing 2204 people.

Without in any way wishing ill upon those 2204, their choice of home is rather inconvenient, as if Kurnell's residents and their ears weren't there it would make it rather easier to fly planes over the suburb 24×7.

At this point it's worth considering the price of a new airport, which everyone agrees is lots of billions of dollars.

Sydney Airport's owner, Sydney Airport Holdings, has first right of refusal to build and operate any new airport, but tends to favour any alternative proposal that lets it keep making money from the current facilities instead of getting into the horrid business of funding and building a new one.

Which is why acquiring and bulldozing Kurnell to remove its ears deserves consideration.

Buying a whole suburb may seem expensive, but according to the mean home price in Kurnell is $665,000.

Let's be generous and decree that Kurnell homeowners will be paid market value for their homes and then compensation. $1.25m is a nice round figure per home.

If you multiply 723 by $1.25m that gives us a fund of $915,000,000 to buy out all the houses in the suburb, at prices generous enough to allow residents to resettle somewhere nice.

Let's next assume demolition and remediation costs of $250 million and throw the same amount into the pot for building community facilities on the site once the houses are gone.

Cyclists often ride to Kurnell so I think a nice road racing track, velodrome, cyclocross course and mountain bike park are reasonable starters and will leave plenty more millions for other facilities that aren't disrupted by low-flying noise.

Let's be generous and throw in another $100,000 per household for relocation expenses to bring the whole package to a round $1.5 billion, a tiny sum for clear air and acres of new leisure facilities.

At this point readers with a sense of social justice may feel it's just a little bit unfair to evict the good folk of Kurnell so callously.

To which it is only sensible to respond that the current situation treats the rest of Sydney and indeed the nation callously.

Sydney needs more airport capacity. Has done for ages, because more take-offs and landings in Sydney means more tourists and more jobs. Sydney Airport shareholders also need protection from a policy failure that could impose massive capital requirements on the entity.

The rest of Sydney also needs a break from aircraft noise, and if Kurnell were to be bulldozed there would be less need for respite hours or other noise-abating arrangements.

Tourism would boom. Jobs would be secured. Australia would show the world it can make tough policy decisions and thrive to the extent that we could afford an NDIS, two Gonskis and even a hospital or three. What's not to like?

Simon Sharwood is a Sydney -based journalist and editor.

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6 thoughts on “Could Kurnell be second Sydney Airport site?

  1. While you’re busy handing out compensation packages to the people of kurnell how about compensating us poor sods who actually own land in Badgerys Creek. We bought here in 1972 and did not get acquired by the government in 1985 but have always been told we will be industrial. Since the buy out we have lived with the restrictions that won’t allow us to do anything with the house and land. We’ve seen our local area go into decline. The church, shop and post office have gone. Many of the rented airport houses are not well cared for. Our property values go down as noone knows whats happening and the area has stagnated. But every once in a while the airport raises its head and we think, maybe this time we’ll get a final decision and we can get on with our lives. I think an airport will provide a huge boost to western sydney in terms of employment and infrastructure. The sooner they build Badgerys the better.

  2. To say that the anti Badgerys protests were/are NIMBY is quite wrong. This proposal would not work as an airport for a huge number of reasons. Ask any long haul pilot if they could make it over the Blue Mtns and they will tell you it would be one hell of a hairy ride. EIS flightpaths (not shown in summary documents) show this clearly, with tight turns directly over Lake Burragorang, and with Warragamba Dam wall in the highest risk crash area, and that’s just the beginning. We all drink water. Likewise, we all breathe air, and the impact on Sydney basin air quality (already shockingly poor) would be immense. The whole Badgerys affair is the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on Australia, driven by a group of dollar driven “faceless men”, hell bent on development for their own $$ benefits, and who have obviously been recently running an ignorant but elaborate pro airport campaign. ICAC on Obeid and Macdonald are minute compared to what has been going on in relationship to the Badgerys proposal and there clearly needs to be a Royal Commission into the whole affair, right back to when someone managed to convince Bob Hawke to wrongly acquire 1770 hectares at Badgerys without even knowing if the site would be suitable for use as an airport; which it isn’t. Since then, EVERY government has not committed to Badgerys and has needed to search for an alternative site; doesn’t that say it all? Likewise every NSW state govt and opposition has also opposed it. Journalists, read the existing EIS properly (not the summary “sales document”)and report on that – or just look for yourself; Blind Freddy can see that Badgerys is wrong.

  3. This has been mooted before by Sydney Airport and was a proposal they looked at recently as reported in the Australian Financial Review last week (you may have thought up this solution independently – if you did then you should check to see if anyone else had thought and credit them as well, if you didnt think it up independently then dont claim credit for it). Problem is airport landings/takeoffs are often determined by which way the wind is blowing so although this could add to capacity its still hampered by nature

  4. I totally agree with Peter Cork, but like to add some more concerns and things to think about.
    Firstly I like to know exactly who is going to pay for building the second Airport? I thought the government was broke and I am sure after Cross City Tunnel debacle we have learned our lesson…
    Secondly how will a second airport be operated as International or Domestic or only Cargo?? I can’t imagine airlines are interested in having double staff in Sydney seen their all rather reduce staff.. Also Mascot is not closing so how do the passengers travel from Badgerys Creek to Mascot or reverse?
    Badgerys Creek does not have any infrastructure like trains, fuel lines, all utilities like electricity, gas, sewer and water supply would have to be upgraded.. Not to talk about fuel dumping over Warragamba Dam. Anyone living under or near the fight path must be connected to town water as this area is currently not connected and rain water wouldn’t be save to drink. This is area is largely used for Market Gardens and Milk production, which as we all know what a cow eats goes partially into the milk, we all drink.
    Thirdly the proposal I have seen does not allow for a cross runway so only one directional and the current plan already do not allow for any further development… why do Australian government during planning never allow for further expansion..
    Mind you if there would be a cross runway it will then effect Penrith and South Western Growth areas and which mean the proposal effects close to a million people.

    My thoughts are why do we not spend the money on building a better rail system along the East Cost and regional NSW which would allow people to travel into the regions by train like there do in Europe, If I would have to option between train and plain I rather go on a train as I can come to the train station 10min before leaving not at least 1 hour.
    If we do need a second Airport at least use an existing one like Richmond or Williamtown must be a lot cheaper or is the Government so rich. We “government” should a least wait until the Airport Report is released and see how their propose to deal with further needs.

  5. I have said it again and again that Sydney is in desperate need of an new airport, but no one wants it near their land. The so-obvious-that-you’ll-slap-your-forehead solution? Don’t build it on land, the ocean’s right there. There’s even a plan, but it’s more than an airport.The idea is to have an airport at Kurnell beach right behind the refinery with a 5 KM floating runway built on the ocean or on the Botany Bay. it would cost about 1 billion dollars to build, what are the advantages?
    This concept has been done in other places and you may be aware that one has just been designed for London
    The land belongs to the government, so there is NO costs involved except as to pay the 750 property owners there less than two billion dollars, the infrastructure is already there and the only extra thing is needed is a Bridge similar to ANZAC bridge to connect Kurnell to Little Bay which would cost another 1 billion dollar. Fast catamarans take the passengers to city in less than half an hour and with new bridge cars would take less than an hour to get to the city through Anzac Prade
    Frank Moshfeghi, Sydney

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