Second Sydney airport may threaten Blue Mountains’ World Heritage status
The United Nations’ world heritage body will issue a “please explain” to the Australian Abbott government demanding a detailed report on the threat posed by the Badgerys Creek airport near Sydney, to the natural integrity of the Blue Mountains – just 8 km away. The new airport was given consent in April 2014. Any risk to World Heritage status is likely to hit the tourism industry, particularly nature-based tourism. The UN scrutiny comes as the Abbott government has been accused of a “sneaky” attempt to avoid World Heritage impacts being considered as part of the environmental approval for the new 24-hour airport. However, the Environment Department ruled on December 23 that World Heritage impacts must be examined. The Blue Mountains was finally accepted on the World Heritage list in December 2000, within a fortnight of the Howard government publicly announcing that plans for Badgerys Creek had been shelved. Problems caused by the airport include airborne fuel emissions, visual intrusion, and predicted aircraft noise of 70 to 80 decibels as “adversely affecting the natural quiet” of the Blue Mountains area. Claims that planes are “quieter and cleaner” than 15 years ago, and so not problem, are not believed.
Second Sydney airport may threaten Blue Mountains’ World Heritage status
World Heritage listed, but for how long?: The Blue Mountains.
The United Nations’ world heritage body will issue a “please explain” to the Abbott government demanding a detailed report on the threat posed by the Badgerys Creek airport to the natural integrity of the Blue Mountains.
UNESCO repeatedly rejected Australia’s nomination of the Blue Mountains for World Heritage status between 1999 and 2000 citing plans for Badgerys Creek that were being considered by the Howard government. Any risk to World Heritage status is likely to hit the tourism industry, particularly nature-based tourism.
The world scrutiny comes as the Abbott government has been accused of a “sneaky” attempt to avoid World Heritage impacts being considered as part of the environmental approval for the 24-hour airport.
The flight path for the Badgerys Creek.
The Department of Infrastructure lodged a scoping document with federal environment bureaucrats in December that claimed a significant impact on the World Heritage values of the Blue Mountains was “not considered likely”.
The Blue Mountains was finally accepted on the World Heritage list in December 2000, within a fortnight of the Howard government publicly announcing that plans for Badgerys Creek had been shelved.
Correspondence between UNESCO and the Australian government earlier in 2000 had shown the government backing away from a second airport. UNESCO advisers had earlier cited the risk of airborne fuel emissions, visual intrusion, and predicted aircraft noise of 70 to 80 decibels as “adversely affecting the natural quiet” of the Blue Mountains area.
The World Heritage listing states “proposals for a second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek … have been abandoned”.
A UNESCO spokeswoman in Paris told The Sun-Herald the World Heritage Committee hadn’t been informed the Abbott government had revived the airport project, which is eight kilometres from the World Heritage area.
This is despite the convention requiring governments to notify any intention of new construction – before basic documents are drafted or decisions made. “UNESCO will surely follow up with the Australian authorities,” she said.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the committee’s advisory body, would require “detailed information for review”.
A spokesman for Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss said “improvements in aircraft technology and regulatory standards” meant the noise and air pollution risk was lower than previously assessed in 1999.
But Mrs Kelly, a former RAAF officer, rejected this claim, arguing the threat to the Blue Mountains of takeoffs and landings is significant.
Colong Foundation For Wilderness director Keith Muir accused the department of being “sneaky”. “They were trying to dodge a bullet, and have an environmental assessment that would not have to look at World Heritage,” he said.
Mrs Kelly, who is an independent candidate for the seat of Penrith at the NSW election, said there was “no doubt” flights will be routed over the Blue Mountains because of the political need to minimise noise in marginal Liberal western suburbs seats .
“At Mascot, 55 per cent of flights are over the ocean. Fifty five per cent of flights will be over the Blue Mountains. All of that aviation gas pollution and noise pollution over World Heritage areas,” she said.
Mrs Kelly said she was campaigning against the airport in the Liberal-held seat of Penrith because she didn’t see why the promised infrastructure funding package for Western Sydney had to be tied to an airport. “I think at the moment if you say ‘jobs’, people will put up with anything. But when people realise how many jobs, what kind of jobs, and the trade-off in enjoyment, property values and traffic congestion, it will be one big sticky do.”
Mr Muir said the Infrastructure Department had claimed in the document that noise wouldn’t be a significant impact for the Blue Mountains because there were already aircraft flying over at higher altitudes.
“That’s like saying if there is one freeway in metropolitan Sydney, a second freeway would have no impact. That is factually incorrect.”
Mr Truss’ spokesman said the airport proposal would see air traffic approach and depart over the Blue Mountains, which “may generate some indirect noise and pollution impacts on some areas of the Greater Blue Mountains”.
“Aircraft at a Western Sydney airport are not expected to represent a new source of impact on the aesthetic and wilderness values of the Greater Blue Mountains,” the spokesman said. A spokesman for Environment Minister Greg Hunt said rather than pre-empt the findings, the government will await the completion of the environment assessment that is being undertaken. He said the approval process will take into account scientific evidence and public comments.
Mr Hunt’s spokesman said the proposed airport is outside the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, but as a “matter of good faith” UNESCO would be advised in the regular quarterly update. He said there had been no suggestion of losing World Heritage status in discussions with UNESCO over contentious plans to expand a port in another World Heritage property, the Great Barrier Reef.
However the World Heritage Committee will consider placing the Great Barrier Reef on the “in danger” list next year, a step towards delisting.
Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute executive director Rosalie Chapple said conservationists need to start planning for the impact of increased tourists in the Blue Mountains. “The airport will increase visitations and people living up here. There will be knock-on effects,” she said.
“People take it for granted that the Blue Mountains is World Heritage listed, but it has not brought any more money into the management of the property.”
There is a No Badgerys Creek Airport group, with a page on Facebook
True or False: Second Airport will Threaten World Heritage Status
The United Nations body UNESCO would not approve the Blue Mountains for World Heritage status between 1999 and 2000, citing the Howard Liberal Government’s consideration of the airport.
The Mountains region was awarded World Heritage Status after plans for Badgery’s Creek were shelved.
The airport will be the subject of an environmental feasibility study before it goes ahead. A spokesperson for the Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, toldFresh Air Daily that “There has been no suggestion of such an outcome in the numerous discussions the Minister has had with UN and national officials from around the world about World Heritage matters.”
The spokesperson added that the study would include public submissions. “The assessment and approval process being undertaken is thorough, open and transparent, and will take into account expert scientific advice and public comments,” the spokesperson said.
“We understand that the proposal has bipartisan support. So it must be assumed that the ALP also agrees that there should be a full assessment as the right way to consider the proposal.”
However, Labor’s representative for Macquarie Susan Templeman told Fresh Air Daily that she was concerned about the potential loss of World Heritage status.
“It would be a huge concern if an airport at Badgery’s Creek led to the loss of World Heritage Listing,” Ms Templeman said.
“The world significance of the Greater Blue Mountains is one of our key tourism draw-cards, and for the local economy it’s vital we keep it.”
Ms Templeman suggested that more information was needed about what impact the second airport might have.
“I think what this highlights is that there is a lot more information needed about flight paths and the height at which planes would be flying over the Blue Mountains in order to assess the pollution and noise.”
“Only then will people…be able to make an informed view.”
“The last Environmental Impact Statement was in 1997, so there really is no updated information available.”
It is estimated that the airport would cost $2.5 billion to build. Prime Minister Abbott has claimed that the project would create 400 construction jobs and 60,000 new jobs once complete. Construction is expected to begin in 2016.
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