The federal government will move ahead with a “detailed investigation” into building a second Sydney airport in Wilton, but stopped short of endorsing that option.
Transport Minister Anthony Albanese announced the plans today, saying the inquiry would include “preliminary economic, social and environmental studies.” Albanese said a decision on whether to go ahead with an airport at the site roughly 80km southwest of the Sydney CBD would await the results of the new study.
“I don’t want to pre-empt the study, that’s why we’re getting the scientific advice in,” Albanese told ABC Radio. “But Sydney does need a second airport – that is very clear.”
Albanese said the government would also study using RAAF Base Richmond for limited civilian operations and would work with the NSW government to develop a plan to upgrade the road and rail networks serving the current Sydney Airport.
The study of Wilton follows a broader study on Sydney’s airport needs released earlier this year. That study, jointly commissioned by the federal and NSW governments, called for urgent action on a second airport and recommended Wilton as a second-best option behind Badgerys Creek. The federal government purchased and set aside land for an airport at Badgerys Creek decades ago, but both the federal and state governments have since ruled out the site due to encroaching residential development.
Liberal NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell also opposes building an airport at Wilton, preferring plans to expand Canberra Airport and link it to Sydney via high speed rail. But that plans appear to have little support at the federal level, including from O’Farrell’s own party, and O’Farrell has come under increasing pressure to soften his stance on Wilton.
At the same time, however, the Wilton option has also drawn staunch opposition from local politicians and resident groups, who argue that the area’s significant water catchments and lack of transport infrastructure make it unsuitable for an airport.
The cost of an airport at Wilton has been estimated at $810 million including road upgrades. That’s more than twice the estimated cost to build at Badgerys Creek. But only about 81,500 people are expected to be affected by aircraft noise at Wilton versus 1.7 million at Badgerys Creek.
Albanese said the government would begin consultations with Sydney Airport’s parent company, which holds a right of first refusal to build a second airport under the Sydney Airport Share Sale Agreement.