The Guardian • Adeshola Ore • Wed 16 Mar 2022 03.30 AEDT
Residents say independent commission must be established now, in early consultation phase, before project is built
Melbourne residents opposed to Tullamarine airport’s $1.9bn proposed third runway say the federal government must implement an independent committee to review noise impacts.
While the proposal is still in the early consultation phase, residents say an independent forum should be established before the project is built.
Last month, Brisbane airport began trialling aircraft noise reduction measures after the deputy prime minister and infrastructure minister, Barnaby Joyce, established an independent review of the impact of its new parallel runway, opened in 2020, following noise complaints.
Melbourne airport’s third runway would run parallel to the existing north-south runway. Public consultation on the proposal ends in mid-May with the final plan for the 3km runway to be submitted to the federal infrastructure minister for approval next year.
The retired GP Michael Howson, who has a farm on the the Maribyrnong River near the airport, said it was vital that a “totally independent expert commission” review the proposal.
“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 has written to Joyce, urging him to commission a “fully independent expert review” of the proposed third runway.
He said, based on current capacity and future projections, the runway would result in five times as many planes flying over Melbourne than currently fly over Brisbane. He said he was concerned about international studies which pointed to the negative health impacts from aircraft noise, particularly for students of nearby schools.
Howson said the best comparison of noise impacts would be the short-term noise monitoring conducted by Airservices Australia at Horseshoe Bend Park in Keilor East in 2016. Horseshoe Bend is 1km further on from the end of the current north-south runway than Keilor would be from the proposed new runway.
“This gives us the best idea of what’s happening, as there’ll be a noise level of that intensity – of around 70-80 decibels every three to six minutes,” he said.
“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 argued these noise levels were incompatible with residential living and against the World Health Organization’s 2018 recommended safe maximum noise levels for aircraft noise.
The former Brimbank mayor John Hedditch agreed a forum of independent experts was needed. Brimbank council’s area includes the suburbs directly south of the airport that will be impacted by the new flight path.
“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.”
He said Melbourne’s second airport – Avalon – should be considered as an alternative for the additional runway.
Hannah Robertson, a spokeswoman for the Melbourne Airport Community Action Group and Keilor local, said any forum would need to make a “genuine commitment to support the community” and genuinely explore “protecting health and wellbeing”.
The airport has argued that the third runway is essential to cope with future growth demands, including tourism and freight needs. It has forecast that annual passenger numbers will grow from 37 million to more than 76 million by 2042.
The $1.9bn project is scheduled to be finished in 2027 at the earliest.
A spokeswoman for Melbourne airport said an independentreview was a decision for the federal government.
“We would fully participate if that decision was made,” she said.
“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.
“We are confident that the assessments are thorough, but we also welcome community analysis and response.”
A spokeswoman for Joyce said the proposal was still in the consultation phase.