05 September 2023

Just over two months ago the preliminary flight paths for Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport were released. It's fair to say that they have not brought much joy to many of my Macquarie constituents in the Blue Mountains or the Hawkesbury. Today I want to share some of the feedback from residents. It predominantly, but not exclusively, comes from the mountains, where the decision to live in a bushfire-prone area away from the conveniences of city life and a long way from the existing international airport is often a deliberate choice rather than an accident.

I've spent the last couple of months asking people to look closely at what has been put forward. I've said that
I expected concern and even shock at the planned flight paths, which was how I felt when I saw them. I won't reprosecute the years of concern I've expressed in this place about the 24/7 airport, but nothing has changed my views. What has changed is the transparency enabled by our infrastructure minister, especially the flight path mapping and the noise tool. While I have not liked the detail, there is a lot of information and there have been many frank conversations between key departmental and government agency representatives and community members at the multiple information sessions. There has also been time to absorb what is, no matter how it lands, a very big change.

So what are people saying? In the survey I've run, nearly 400 people responded. Three-quarters either disapproved or strongly disapproved of what was being put forward. Some people see minimal impact and some welcome having an airport closer. For the majority who responded, there is a repeated request for more protections from night-time noise, with night defined by the flight path designers as between 11 pm and 5.30 am. Here's a tiny sample of the comments I've received. The first read:

My main issue is the no curfew rule and the amount of flights that will be going overhead at night. I'm concerned my family and I will have lots of difficulty sleeping. We moved from the city to the mountains for peace and quiet and now we are going to have to deal with this.

Another reads:

There should be a curfew at night. It is unreasonable that people in Western Sydney should have to put up with noise from aircraft all night. The impacts on people's health and wellbeing is unreasonable.

A third comment reads:

Noise, lack of curfew. Double standard having a curfew for those affected by Syd airport and not WSI.

Others point out that the noise impact is very different to what city dwellers experience, making a 60-decibel
sound even more intrusive. One says:

We are concerned because at our home in East Blaxland, we experience very little noise that interrupts the peace and harmony of the native bush. Once the airport commences, then the peace and sounds of bush will be drowned out by aircraft movement. We moved to the Blue Mountains in the early 2000s because we love the idea of living in a National Park. There is only one other place in the world where you can do that.

And another says:

Our Winmalee community, like most of the Blue Mountains, has very low ambient noise, especially at night, so the new flight paths will most certainly have a negative impact on the residents' lives, especially our sleep. The Blue Mountains has far lower ambient noise than the Sydney metropolitan area. This is one of the many reasons I and many others chose to live in the Blue Mountains for the quietness, especially at night.

I have received similar comments that relate to most of the villages and towns, from the lower mountains through to the mid-mountains and even upper mountains and across to the Hawkesbury, about some of the daytime and night-time flight paths. Linden residents in particular express trepidation at the flights that are planned to cross over their hamlet as low as 5,000 feet, and, of course, the impact on the observatory at Linden has been raised.

While many comments focus on our area, I want to point out that I have received expressions of concern for
others outside the Blue Mountains or Hawkesbury. For example:

We are concerned because we both work in schools in Western Sydney. We are aware that a 24-hour airport will impact our students' sleep and consequently their participation at school. It is unfair that the sleep of those who live in Sydney is protected but not for those who live in the Greater Western Sydney area. Many of the students are currently vulnerable compared to their peers in more affluent areas. We are horrified to think how the airport could exacerbate existing problems with sleep and attendance.

While there is a strong focus on the impact on people, so too is the concern for wildlife, particularly for nocturnal animals, and that has been expressed by many people. There have been constructive suggestions, including this one, to increase the understanding of the noise people may face by having planes fly the proposed flight paths at the expected heights. As my constituent says:

Obviously planes can't yet take off from WSI airport, but they could take off from Sydney airport and perform
loops across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, ascending and descending along the plan's exact flight
paths and at the indicated altitudes. The planes should be of the same class as those that will eventually use the flight paths. There could be no better transparency in this process than having residents of the affected areas truly experiencing the actual reality of the impact of the flight paths.

I want to thank everybody who has taken the time to look closely at this complex information about the
preliminary flight paths made available to us and who has shared their concerns and distress. I know the public meeting to be held by the Blue Mountains City Council on Sunday afternoon in Springwood will provide more examples of the dissatisfaction with the preliminary flight paths. I will be sharing much more detail of the issues raised with me with the flight path planners and the decision-makers. We expect the draft environmental impact statement on the preliminary flight paths to be exhibited in the next month or so, which will provide a formal process for my community to express its concerns.

I have promised to fight for my community. It's what I've been doing since this airport was announced by
Tony Abbott, and it's what I'll continue to do to try and secure greater protections and reduce the impact on my community during the day and at night. Can I guarantee success? No. But I don't believe you can choose to fight only the battles that you know you'll win.