Melbourne Airport spent more than $45 million buying land around its border as part of preparations for a new runway – despite not yet having final sign-off for the project from Canberra.
In 2018 the Australia Pacific Airports Corporation, which manages Tullamarine, released its latest five-year master plan. It said a new east-west runway was needed by 2022.
But the following year the corporation shocked those living in Keilor and other suburbs to its south by saying it instead wanted to build a runway running north-south.
The decision would result in thousands of homes in Melbourne’s north-west having more planes taking off and landing above them when airport operations return to pre-COVID levels.
Since then, the airport has bought up more than 200 hectares, some to deal with pollution from its firefighting training centre flowing into the nearby Arundel Creek. But it has also bought properties abutting its western border – one for $22 million. Title searches by The Age found that, in one small corner of Keilor to be particularly affected by the new runway, $45.3 million was spent in just three years on buying properties.
One parcel was bought by Melbourne Airport for $8 million in January 2018 and then sold five months later to the Commonwealth for $3 million. Another parcel was bought from restaurant and winery Arundel Farm for $8.7 million. The land, where the restaurant raises cows and grows grapes, was immediately leased back to the company.
Melbourne Airport has two runways and, before the pandemic, intended to add a third to deal with booming passenger numbers. Pre-COVID, the airport experienced its busiest ever month, with 3.3 million people using Tullamarine to fly in December 2019.
It is pressing on with its third-runway plan, although its timeline to build the three-kilometre tarmac at a cost of $1.5 billion is now uncertain.
A north-south runway would generate more noise overhead in suburbs including Keilor, St Albans, Bulla and Tottenham, while an east-west runway would have directly affected residents in Gladstone Park and Westmeadows.
The airport’s long-term plan is to add a fourth runway, doubling Tullamarine’s capacity from close to 40 million passengers a year before the pandemic.
Keilor locals who live under the flight path of the planned new north-south runway say it is outrageous the federal and state governments are not stopping the plan when Avalon Airport is sitting largely unused 50 kilometres to the south-west.
Michael Howson was a GP who saw only children in Melbourne’s north-west from 1979 until 2005. Dr Howson worked in Essendon and later at the Royal Children’s Hospital. He bought his farm, on a picturesque loop of the Maribyrnong River a few kilometres from the airport, in 2007.
The 72-year-old isn’t concerned about a third runway running north-south for his property’s sake – he lives down a small hill that minimises noise. “I’m also going deaf, so I will be fine,” he joked.
He worries that the impact on homes and schools south of the airport down to Sunshine could be profound.
“I am concerned by many studies that show how damaging these noise levels are to health and cognitive development,” Dr Howson said, pointing to research on increased plane noise at Heathrow Airport in London. “It showed for every 5 decibels of noise that increased, kids were held back two months in learning.”
Dr Howson conceded, “Everybody I talk to says there is no point in fighting the airport; they will get what they want. It’s frustrating but it’s probably true.”
He said the airport’s land buy-up was lacking in transparency. “Why are they spending all this money now before [federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport] Michael McCormack has even seen their new development plan?”
Another Keilor resident, Hannah Robertson from the Melbourne Airport Community Action Group, said she and others were “struggling to understand why this rather opaque process [of land acquisition] has been followed when there is a transparent process to follow for compulsory land acquisition”.
She pointed out that some of the land was contaminated with chemicals that came from airport activities. This had affected many local businesses, she said, “yet no one seems to have been held accountable”.
Source : Melbourne Airport spends $45m in third-runway buying spree (theage.com.au)