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So it comes to pass that the Telegraph’s long running campaign to get Badgery’s Creek Airport to get built has come to fruition. The “Infrastructure Prime Minister”, Tony Abbott and his infrastructure “expert” Warren Truss have announced today that Badgery’s Creek Airport is going to be built – as a curfew free, single runway site for “new services, not transferred services”. The press conference that was convened to announce it gave us a few clues as to the thinking behind it, in terms of how it will be built and the services it will provide.

1.  A Single Runway, Small Terminal Airport for “New” Services

The new airport is to be a small one initially – one runway, a small terminal – but one ready for expansion in time.   The first assumption for such an airport would be to have the new airport being similar to Avalon in Melbourne – a place for cut price interstate airlines and freight.  In Badgery’s case, that could also include regional airlines being forced to land at the new airport, so to allow the operators of Kingsford Smith Airport (KSA) to have the more profitable international flights land there.  A question asked of Warren Truss at the press conference, however, about who would fly to this new airport was surprising. Truss asserted that existing slots provided to intra state aircraft (operated by regional operators) at Kingsford Smith Airport (KSA) will continue, indicating that regional travellers will still land within easy striking range of Sydney.  This came with a catchphrase for the airport from Abbott and Truss, that it will be for “new services, not transferred services”. We shall see for how long that will last – especially as the operators of KSA will need some kind of sweetener in order to gain their co-operation for the building of Badgery’s.

One group happy, however, with this announcement should be cut price airline operators, who will gain a significant, growing market – western Sydney customers having an easier airport to access for interstate travel.   This could well be the market for these “new services” that Truss and Abbott referred to. Also happy would be some freight companies, gaining a new hub for freight away from the choked hub of Mascot.

2. “This is a Roads First, Airport Second” Plan

You know Abbott is serious about a particular line when he repeats it in a press conference. Hence we had “roads first, airport second”.  This showed that the message about the terrible state of western Sydney roads has seeped in since the time the government leaked the story about the airport in December. The original idea (which I talked about in this post) had a vague $200 million road project mentioned, which was laughed out of court by the likes of Barry O’Farrell, who said that figure needed “another zero” at the start of it.  There can be no project of any worth mentioned in western Sydney without a promise of roads and infrastructure around it, simply because of the neglect of various governments in NSW and Canberra to address them in the past. It will be intriguing as to how the new airport plan will address the problem, because asides from the lack of a decent North – South link from the airport area currently, merely adding to the M7 / M4 / M5 traffic jam isn’t going to solve the problems of transport – instead will add to them. The solution may well be to just serve the west and south west and not consider how to link Badgery’s to the Sydney CBD.  Or, just serve Parramatta, the city that the Telegraph was boosting its Monday edition, with this fancy graphic.

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I’m wondering whether the M9 plan may get  a Federal Government boost – or the “Super Orbital” as it was in 2008.  Not only Super Orbital, also super expensive.  Alternatively – or more likely – is a road linking Badgery’s to the M7. While the M7 hasn’t got bad traffic issues currently, the issue arises with the roads it links to – the M4 and M5.  That’s why no matter how much money is thrown at a new road, it may just funnel cars into existing traffic jams.

3. No Federally Funded Rail Line

What this “roads first, airport second” line means, as ever with this government, is that there will be no Federal funding of a rail link to Badgery’s. When asked about the financing of a rail link, the first answer of Abbott said that a rail link would probably be a result, but that states are usually responsible for urban rail – but when pressed, we got a “look” and “ah”, followed by an assertion that Federal Governments only co-fund major roads, not rail projects.  So if there is to be a rail option for Badgery’s, that would be up to the State Government – which almost certainly assigns that possibility to many decades in the future – which will be a considerable problem for Badgery’s, especially if there is any hope of having swift travelling for interstate travellers from the new airport to the CBD.

4. No Need for a new EIS – “There’s Been Too Much Studying, Not Enough Deciding”

The existing EIS for Badgery’s was drawn up in the mid 1980s – so has little relevance to the current environmental context. For Abbott, however, his attitude towards environmental impact is that it’s just more barriers and that governments don’t need to do any studying of impacts – it just needs to build things.  This shows another instinct of this government – to deride science and studying of the impact of human activity on the environment – but this time, applying that instinct to something that will have an almost immediate impact on the health of the environment in the area. If for no other reason, an EIS would provide the government with a way of mitigating against environmental damage during the construction and post-construction process.  The testosterone driven “we are building stuff, don’t stand in our way, science and environmentalists” philosophy of this government that is shown in actions like this is a considerable shift, even from the Howard Government approach.

5. No Curfew, Less Noise

This is an important feature for the new airport, especially in regards freight – one can’t imagine interstate travellers wanting to land in Badgery’s Creek at 3am.  It’s also a rallying call for the new Member for Lindsay, Fiona Scott, who has joined with Chifley’s Ed Husic in a call to have the airport have a curfew as to have equity with “the Eastern Suburbs and Inner West”.  That is a line we can expect Scott to say a bit as she defends and justifies something to which she was opposed before the election.  The same goes for Husic, as the airport has the support of both State and Federal Labor.

The government, however, was already at pains at the press conference to assert that there won’t be all that many flights between 11pm and 6am at the “short runway, small terminal airport”.  Truss added that the noise of jets isn’t all that bad by saying that “modern jets” are “much quieter” these days. Long term, however, it may well be more of an issue as the airport expands into the future, takes international flights and we hear jets zooming over Springwood and other Blue Mountains villages at 2am as international carriers see the advantages of the curfew free airport.  In addition, I work in a workplace in the inner west that is under flightpaths.  I can confirm that modern jets may be quieter, but they aren’t all that quiet.   The voxpops taken by the news networks in High St Penrith in a few years might be different to the ones we are seeing today.

6. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

The biggest selling point for the Government of this airport is jobs for Western Sydney – especially to those electorates it didn’t gain last year. This is why it wouldn’t be interested in the cheaper and still effective act of moving regional and freight to Bankstown, an idea outlined with elegant simplicity by Peter Martin.  This is a project for the Infrastructure Prime Minister to live up to that self-provided title.  That’s why we see all sorts of projections of the jobs that will be created by this project. The construction jobs, the service jobs, the freight jobs.  We will see all sots of inflated numbers thrown around for the single runway, small terminal airport.   That $24 billion will be added to the national economy is one of the more laughable numbers.  The problem here is that in the short term, it is difficult to see how the airport – especially in the form proposed by the Government – will create significantly more economic activity for the region than building a couple of shopping centres and an industrial estate. And shopping centres and industrial estates don’t pose as greater noise or environmental impact to the wide footprint that we see with an airport.

Badgery’s also won’t be all that better for business travellers heading to the West from other states – especially if they are heading to the swiftly growing Parramatta “powerhouse” by train.  The current trip takes 44 minutes, including the change of trains at Central.  Even a direct train trip from a new Badgery’s Station to Parramatta via Glenfield (the most probable route) would take almost the same amount of time.   A trip to Penrith or Blacktown on the train from Badgery’s would also take the same amount of time, due to the lack of train lines.  One of the bigger flaws of this plan is that there seems to be no plan to build heavy or light rail on a North – South corridor in the vicinity of Badgery’s, which would have a significant economic impact on Western Sydney, as it would make it easier for development to occur along those corridors.  Maybe all business travellers prefer taxis to trains and will be happy to use the one road the Federal Government will build or the goat tracks that will remain untouched.

7. Who It’s All For

One of the more telling parts of this announcement is the assertion that it’s private money that will mostly build this airport – the Government will be the facilitator, “cutting red and green tape” and the like.  When the government changes the pension, has people work until they’re 70, cut the NDIS and other cost saving actions, it will be keen to sell the airport as a low cost way to stimulate economic activity whilst it acts to stifle it with its other actions.  It’s more hairy chested “We Are The Builders, Not Blockers” posturing from this government, designed to pork barrel Western Sydney while asserting it won’t cost all that much – but that most of the cost will be for roads, which will benefit voters.

But who will it actually benefit?  People in western Sydney wanting to escape more efficiently.  The construction companies building the airport, yes. People in service industries.  Maybe the Federal Government with some positive voter sentiment.

Who is forgotten in all this?  The environment, local resident groups and the Greens, who continue to oppose such a large spend on a project that won’t benefit the region as much as being asserted, as high speed rail options are left ignored – for example, their policy promoting accessible high speed rail to Melbourne could well cut down a large amount of domestic flights into KSA .  It also forgets that money is needed for investing in health and education infrastructure* – investing in intellectual capital, rather than just building stuff and services related to built stuff. As Badgery’s now seems to be a fait accompli, what we will probably see is the impact of not enough studying and too much deciding.

*thanks to @bluntshovels for making that point to me

Update

We have had this cautionary tale from the head of Avalon Airport in Melbourne, in the light of the reduction of flights into that airport – showing that Badgery’s Creek will need to be protected from KSA by the Federal Government.

The Telegraph, who are the biggest boosters in this issue, have released another Government press release in regards the road projects that Abbott is going to fund. It even came with another big, showy graphic.

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Essentially, what we have here is pretty much what I predicted originally – a new road linking the airport to the M7 – but a separate motorway to run alongside Elizabeth Drive (though, I hope it skirts its way around the Sita food and organics waste recovery centre next to Elizabeth Drive, a valuable site which is the only one in Sydney that processes certain materials) – though I’m not sure if the government actually owns land in the area where such a motorway would go.  I dare say we will hear if it does.

We also have plans to widen the Northern Rd and Bringelly Rd, which will deliver traffic to the already existing M4 and M5 traffic jams.  The Northern Rd widening in particular has been in the pipeline for many years and it necessary, due to the increasing number of urban developments along the road. Widening it will be very expensive and lengthy and will be funded entirely by the government, unlike the new airport motorway, which presumably will be a Public Private Partnership with a toll.  Good luck to any infrastructure company wanting to make money from a motorway that only serves a one runway small terminal regional airport. In addition, it will be a hard sell for a government to fund new roads in the middle of a semi rural area whilst people who depend on welfare payments will have their payments cut.

The most cynical part of this map is the big blue line, which indicates a “future rail corridor” to Penrith, to have a rail link from “Liverpool to Penrith”.  While it is necessary, Abbott has already said that the Federal Government won’t fund rail expansion – so it would be up to NSW to fund it.  Considering the history of the NSW government building rail projects, that could be 30+ years into the future.  Not that the Telegraph would add that little reality.    What it will do, however, is produce pieces like this that attempt to bulldoze any concerns about the impact on milk production and landowners.  It’s quite a macho campaign the Telegraph is producing.  Have a look at the links to their story from today:

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“Tell us why you love your area” – I personally love my area for a mix of rural and urban areas and lack of pollution.  I don’t think that vision fits with the Telegraph’s or the Government’s.

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