Mayor's Speech: Extraordinary Council Meeting - 15 December, 2015

15 Dec 2015

The Australian Government released a draft Environmental Impact Study or EIS for the airport in mid-October.

The draft EIS is supposed to look at potential impacts on the community and the environment. The problem is - it doesn’t.

Instead it reads as a catalogue of errors, the most glaring of which, I will bring to the attention of the Council and the community present tonight.
Lack of certainly offered by the EIS

  • As I have said before the draft EIS provides us with nothing but uncertainty at every turn. 
  • Quite frankly the lack of detail provided in the draft EIS is astounding.
  • Key issues such as aircraft noise, flight paths, traffic, transport, the environment and potentially negative economic impacts have all been ill considered and poorly addressed.
  • Rush job which doesn’t meet the government’s own guidelines
  • The EIS is a rush job done in just 8 months.  The first one took more than two years.
  • We knew it was a fast tracked and this has now been proven both in the Independent review which has identified numerous blatant omissions. 
  • The Council also believes that 60 days to respond to the EIS hasn’t been long enough to consider a very lengthy and technically complex document.
  • We also know that it has failed to meet the Australian Government’s own EIS guidelines which were set a year ago. 
  • It’s sloppy and it shows a complete disregard for the people of the Blue Mountains and Western Sydney. 

Noise & Flight Paths

  • There has also been no real attempt to model or test different flight path options which the Australian Government’s own guidelines say an EIS should do.
  • And we know that noise impacts were not even taken into consideration when they planned the flight paths. 
  • Residential impacts were not discussed nor mitigation measures quantified
  • The merge point places an unfair burden on the people of the mountains and must be reviewed. The community deserves to have every flight path option rigorously tested and considered
  • We cannot have an airport operating 24hours a day, 7 days which places such a burden on the community or our environment. 
  • Why should one Sydney airport bear the burden of no curfew and not another?
  • The experts also tell us that an entire review of all flight movements within the Sydney basin should have been conducted.  You would think this would be an obvious approach – but it wasn’t.
  • Best practice would have been to conduct a full review of flight paths across the Sydney Basin now – not wait for the development of a 2nd runway.
  • We also know that the EIS is based on the first 5 years of operation of Stage 1 when predicted passenger levels are at their lowest equal to an airport the size of Townsville.  However, when the second runway is operating and passenger numbers are at their peak, (predicting 80 million passenger movements annually), we are dealing with an airport busier than Heathrow and more than Dubai. 
  • The Australian Government is planning a ‘mega airport’ on our doorstep without giving us all of the facts we need to make a proper assessment of the likely impacts.
  • The Deputy Prime Minister argues that these flight paths are only preliminary and indicative.  He has said that there will be an opportunity to review and refine these flight paths in 8 years time, just before the airport is scheduled to commence operations.
  • And if the rumours are right – which they sometimes can be - the Deputy Prime Minister, the person who has carriage of this proposal, he may be looking to announce his retirement from politics in January.  How can someone in the departure lounge of Parliament guarantee that there will be another opportunity for comment?  There is no such statement in the draft EIS.

Economy & tourism

  • Tourism is one of our largest industries it is the economic powerhouse of the Blue Mountains region.  And it is the lifeblood of our small businesses. 
  • In the year to June 2015, 3.5million visitors to the mountains spent $558M. 
  • The total value to the local economy by the tourism sector is estimated to be over $195 million with 13% of jobs being tourism based, with other key sectors such as retail trade being dependent on tourist activity.
  • Millions of people from across the globe and across Australia come to visit our special and unique region due to its outstanding natural values. 
  • We’re one of only two cities in the world within a World Heritage Listed Area and the Blue Mountains National Park has the highest visitation of any National Park in Australia.    
  • Our towns and community depend on tourism.
  • And we are a region still in recovery from the 2013 bushfires which had a devastating impact on our community and on our businesses in 2013.   We can’t afford to threaten or lose one of our essential industries.
  • Only considered the benefits and not the potential impacts.
  • The draft EIS only considered the positive benefits of an airport in terms of attracting more visitors to the mountains, but we are concerned that a concentration of flight activity will have the reverse effect with people choosing other quieter destinations as a result. 
  • Whether it’s visiting a health spa, bush walking or camping - people will be forced to choose whether they pursue these activities under a flight path or select a quieter location elsewhere. 
  • Who will come and camp under a flight path that is operating 24 / 7?
  • We know that the number of visitors to the region increased with the granting of World Heritage status. 
  • We are putting at risk the very things that are its drawcard.

The natural quiet

  • The Deputy Prime Minister argues that an airport at Badgerys Creek will bring tourists closer to the mountains.  Will still want to visit once these special qualities have been eroded?
  • The EIS states that there will be no real impacts on the visitors to the GBMWHA based on dba (noise) levels alone, but this assertion does not consider the way in which people use the national park.
  • We know it’s the ‘natural quiet’ that people expect to experience when they visit.
  • International research supports what we already know - that recreational park users value the natural quiet and as a result are more sensitive to noise intrusion. 
  • Experiencing the natural quiet is an important part of the visitor experience. 
  • A 2011 US study found that 95% of respondents thought providing a natural quiet environment where the sounds of nature were dominant was an important reason for visiting.

Dalai Lama and the ‘natural quiet’

  • One of the key reasons our city was chosen for a retreat of advanced Buddhist teaching and initiation, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama was in recognition of this special beauty and tranquillity.  This speaks to the value placed on the Blue Mountains globally.
  • We cannot afford to put this at risk.

Noise impacts greatly under-estimated

  • Additional research commissioned by our Council suggests that when assessing aircraft noise intrusion in natural settings it is not appropriate to do this on the basis of noise levels alone.  Noise in quiet settings such as ours need to be understood in the context of the quiet soundscape. 
  • Frequent low level noise occurrences in natural settings also need to be taken into consideration.
  • US research and The Grand Canyon
  • Around the world other special places such as the World Heritage listed Grand Canyon are trying to fix their mistakes in relation to aircraft noise. 
  • They are now looking at ways to reduce and limit aircraft activity in order to restore the natural quiet. Let’s learn from their mistakes and not introduce aircraft into the region in the first place.

Light pollution and visual amenity

  • Visual amenity, lighting, sky glow and aircraft light effects on the night sky are also an issue. 
  • We’re a region that’s highly valued by visitors for our ‘blue haze’ in the day - and for our dark skies at night.  And this includes the use of our observatory at Linden by a host of astronomers. 
  • We also serve as a backdrop to one of Australia’s most cosmopolitan cities. Any impacts are unacceptable for such an iconic location.

Acts on wildlife

  • The EIS has also been found to be wanting when it comes to the impacts on wildlife.  The EIS has claimed that wildlife will become desensitised to noise based on a very narrow study. 
  • We have identified more recent research than that used in the EIS which shows that an increase in noise levels will lead to changes in animal behaviour and distribution. 
  • That research also shows that rises in background noise for animals can lead to an impact on the masking of signals for communication, navigation, prey detection, predator avoidance and environmental monitoring. 

Impacts on the Aboriginal community

  • The Blue Mountains Aboriginal Advisory Council has expressed their concerns that the airport would have significant impacts on their Country and on their cultural beliefs and practices. 
  • We heard earlier from Chris Tobin, representing the Blue Mountains City Council Aboriginal Advisory Council, and we strongly agree that their voice, and that of the Aboriginal community, must be heard.
  • Their submission to the Australian Government in response to the draft EIS is an important one.

Air quality

  • Air quality at both the local and the regional level in the long term was identified in the draft EIS as a key concern with levels exceeding acceptable standards for NO2 (nitrogen dioxide), PM2.5 and PM10 (particulate matter) and Ozone, for example.
  • Air quality is already an issue of concern in Western Sydney. This airport must not adversely impact on the health of our community.

World Heritage Listing

  • In 1999 when there was last talk of an airport at Badgerys Creek the World Heritage Listing nomination was deferred as a direct result. 
  • We know that UNESCO had serious concerns about the potential impacts of an airport on what is now the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. 
  • Alarmingly these concerns have not been addressed in the draft EIS and pose a real threat. 
  • The ‘natural quiet’ and visual spectacle are important characteristics of the region.  UNESCO cited both of these as important when granting the World Heritage status.
  • The draft states that noise levels below 50dBA in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area are not significant.   We think otherwise.
  • We think this statement has not been sufficiently justified and in fact it represents a significant and widespread impact.  
  • Only 2 weeks ago, this community celebrated the 15 year anniversary of the World Heritage listing. I sincerely hope we gat to celebrate the next 15 years.

LEP – granted special status

  • Council has just last week welcomed the news that the NSW Government is in the final stage of approving a new Blue Mountains Local Environment Plan, the blueprint planning document guiding land use and development in the City.
  • The new LEP would continue to protect and manage many of the special characteristics of the natural and built environment of the Blue Mountains, which are clearly valued by the community. 
  • Only to be threatened by the Western Sydney Airport proposal.

Everyone of you here tonight know and understand what an exceptionally beautiful place the Blue Mountains is, and why it needs to be preserved and protected for all to enjoy. 

But equally important – this is also a place in which we live and work.  It’s a place of economic enterprise and a place where ordinary people, families and communities go about their daily lives.
We say this:

  • The draft EIS is grossly inadequate considering the Western Sydney Airport is the most significant proposal affecting the liveability of Western Sydney for the next Century.
  • The Minister for the Environment should reject the draft EIS, and as a result, the draft Airport Plan for Stage 1 should not be approved.
  • We will be asserting our opposition to the significant and irreversible impacts on the Blue Mountains environment and on the community that will occur from the proposed airport flight paths on the Blue Mountains communities and the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
  • We will be urging the Australian Government to undertake a full analysis of alternate flight path options across Sydney, including noise impact assessments, which are considered essential for a project of this scale and consequence into the future. 
  • We will be urging the Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Greg Hunt to seek advice from UNESCO regarding the potential impacts on our World Heritage listing. 
  • We will be endorsing the submission made by the Blue Mountains City Council Aboriginal Advisory Council.
  • We say, it’s not good enough, and quite frankly, the Blue Mountains and Western Sydney deserves better.

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