Melbourne residents opposing a $1.9 billion third runway at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport are calling for the federal government to establish an independent committee to review the impact of additional noise pollution.
The airport revealed in January that its plans to open a proposed third runway, parallel to the existing north-south runway, is still underway, with an expected completion date set for 2027.
The plan hopes to ease the high levels of congestion seen at Melbourne prior to the COVID pandemic, by allowing for new simultaneous take-offs and landings.
Suburbs that skirt the airport’s north and south are expected to be most impacted by increased flight noise due to the new runway, however, a complete rework of Melbourne’s flight paths could see residential suburbs experiencing more flight noise than previously.
It follows significant community fallout over a similar newly opened parallel runway at Brisbane Airport, which has forced the airport and Airservices Australia to implement new tactics to limit noise for residents.
Now, Melbourne residents have argued that an independent panel must be established before the new runway is built.
According to a report by The Guardian, Melbourne local Michael Howson, a retired GP with a farm on the Maribyrnong River, has written to Minister for Infrastructure Barnaby Joyce, calling for an independent review of the proposed addition of a third runway at Melbourne.
Howson said a “totally independent expert commission” would be vital to review the proposal before it goes further.
“This would assess the proposal rather than after the fact trying to mitigate or prevent the disaster,” he said.
“There is no way of reducing noise to safe levels once it is built.”
Howson argued that based on current capacity and future projections, Melbourne’s third runway would see five times as many planes flying over the city than currently flying over Brisbane, which would heavily impact noise pollution.
The local resident said this would likely result in noise pollution of “around 70-80 decibels every three to six minutes”.
“If you allow for a 10-decibel difference for being indoors, that means there is a 60-70 decibel level, so the teacher trying to teach gets drowned or so needs to shout or wait for the planes to pass,” he said.
Former mayor of Brimbank John Hedditch agreed with Howson that an independent panel is required before the project proceeds.
“It’s got too much vested interests in it and I’m not confident we’re getting a balanced perspective at all,” he said.
“The airport has an interest in getting the most viable, cost-effective operational model in place and that’s what it’s doing here. The community’s voice is not being heard by decision-makers.”
Hedditch suggested that additional utilisation of Melbourne’s second airport, Avalon, is a suitable alternative to a third runway at Tullamarine.
Meanwhile, Keilor local Hannah Robertson, a spokesperson for the Melbourne Airport Community Action Group, said any such forum would need to make a “genuine commitment to support the community” and prioritise “protecting health and wellbeing”.
The proposed runway currently remains in the early consultation phase, with public consultation due to end in mid-May.
The final proposal for the 3,000-metre runway will then be submitted to the federal infrastructure minister for final approval in 2023.
A spokesperson for Melbourne airport said an independent review was a decision for the federal government, but that the airport would “fully participate” should that decision be made.
“Melbourne Airport engaged independent experts to rigorously assess environment, health and social aspects of this project, for the construction period and as operations begin and increase over time,” they said.
“We are confident that the assessments are thorough, but we also welcome community analysis and response.”