THE Rudd Government has carpeted Sydney airport chiefs and warned their plans to close the east-west runway for 15 months from April is “unacceptable”.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is furious he was not told about the major runway safety work that threatens to shut the airport and seriously disrupt thousands of residents and passengers.
After learning of the $65 million project days after Labor’s election victory, Mr Rudd asked new Transport Minister Anthony Albanese to convey his “anger” to airport bosses.
Mr Albanese ordered airport chief executive Russell Balding to come up with a plan to minimise the impact on the public, such as more night work and reducing the time frame.
Thousands of residents face an extra 50 planes a day over their homes and airport chiefs already have warned flights could be delayed or diverted to other cities from next April until mid-2009.
The Government accepts there is no option but to proceed with the safety project, which provides an extra 90m area at the end of the east-west runway aimed at preventing aircraft from over-running.
But Mr Albanese told The Daily Telegraph yesterday there was “no excuse for the way in which Sydney Airport Corporation simply dumped their announcement on the work program without any prior community consultation or advice . . .”
Mr Albanese, whose inner-western Grayndler electorate is greatly affected by aircraft noise, said it was the airport’s “worst nightmare” when he was appointed Minister.
“I organised the meeting (with Mr Balding) as the local Member for Grayndler . . . by the time he sat in my office I was the Minister-elect,” he said. “At that meeting I conveyed both my and Prime Minister Rudd’s dismay at both the timing and the unacceptable impact of proposed runway closures . . . I met Kevin before Caucus and said to him, ‘Have you seen what they have done?’
“Kevin said, ‘You tell them I am angry about it’. We hadn’t even been sworn in (as Ministers) at that point.”
In what he described as a “full and frank discussion”, Mr Albanese said he told Mr Balding the Government did not want the runway closed for 15 months.
The Commonwealth has ordered independent engineers’ advice on the project and suggested a report on the full environmental impacts also could be sought.
“I told the management of Sydney airport they will need to consult widely with the community on its construction plans and the impact of runway closures on noise sharing arrangements between the three runways,” Mr Albanese said.
“This includes seeking ways to minimise the closure of the runway . . . this needs to start straight away and should already have happened.”
Mr Albanese said Sydney airport had “known for many years” that the runway safety work needed to be done.
“New standards for Runway End Safety Areas at international airports were passed as regulatory requirements in May 2003 after extensive consultation,” he said yesterday.
Construction of the east-west runway safety area is complicated because the site covers fragile electricity supply cables, the M5 East Motorway tunnel as well as a perimeter road and the Southwest Sydney ocean outfall sewer.
“No education of the population at large has been attempted (by the airport),” Mr Albanese said. “They have failed in their responsibility to inform the community as to why this has to happen.
“There’s no question work is needed – the complaint is about the way it was handled. I told them to go away and try again.”
Mr Albanese said the Rudd Government would revive the proposal for a second Sydney airport in the future – but not at Badgerys Creek in Sydney’s west.