The Guardian • Adeshola Ore • Saturday 14 May 2022 06.00 AEDT
Exclusive: Council-commissioned study recommends curfew, alternative directions for travel
A proposed third runway at Melbourne airport could impact sleeping patterns – potentially leading to increased rates of cardiovascular disease – and may affect children’s cognitive development, an independent health assessment of the $1.9bn project says.
The report, commissioned by Brimbank Council in Melbourne’s outer west, recommends the airport consider a curfew between 11pm-6am, similar to that in place for Sydney Airport, to minimise sleep disruption.
Alternative directions for take-offs were also recommended to provide noise respite for locals, the report, by Dr Lyn Denison from environmental and engineering consulting firm Tonkin & Taylor, said.
A Melbourne Airport spokesperson said it had not been provided with a copy of the report and was unable to comment on the content.
“Melbourne Airport has been very upfront about the benefits and impacts associated with construction of the third runway,” a spokesperson said.
The proposed 3km-long third runway is expected to be completed by the end of the decade and is designed to increase the airport’s freight and tourism capacity and ease pre-Covid delays.
It will require the green light from the commonwealth government with a final plan to be submitted to the federal infrastructure minister for approval next year.
Under the proposal, it will run parallel to an existing north-south runway. Residents in areas to the north and south of the airport, like Keilor, St Albans, Bulla and Tottenham, will be most affected by the additional aircraft noise.
The council-commissioned health risk assessment concluded that existing sleep disturbances and anxiety from aircraft noise in the Brimbank local government area would worsen with the airport’s proposed expansion.
“There will be significant increase in sleep disturbances in the exposed community which may lead to increases in health effects such as cardiovascular disease and anxiety and depression,” it said.
Melbourne Airport uses the Australian Noise Exposure Forecast (Anef), a measure of predicted noise disturbances standardised across Australia for statutory planning purposes. Across Australia, land with an Anef of less than 20 is regarded as being acceptable for residential dwellings.
The new report said the airport’s proposed noise forecasts exceeded the World Health Organization’s 2018 guidelines on aircraft-generated noise.
The assessment said children who live and attend schools in the Anef 20 and 25 zones were predicted to “experience a delay in reading and oral comprehension of between 3 and 5 months compared to children in lower noise areas.”
“This impact is predicted to occur within a population that is known to be delayed in their language and cognitive skills compared to the rest of Melbourne,” it said.
Brimbank is the second most disadvantaged council area in greater Melbourne.
The council-commissioned report comes after the release of the draft major development plan for the third runway released by Melbourne airport. The plan includes an independent and peer-reviewed health assessment that said in locations within 15km from the airport, the severity of potential health effects on schools and childcare centre would be “moderate”.
The plan also said the severity of the potential health effect of heart attacks arising from aircraft noise was projected to be “negligible.”
Melbourne airport has estimated the new runway will allow an extra 23 million passengers to pass through, and an additional 136,500 flights a year by 2046.
It has pledged to engage with residents in the hope of avoiding a repeat of the situation at Brisbane airport, where local residents claimed they were misled about the noise from a second runway.
Brisbane Airport is now trialling interim noise-reduction changes after an independent forum – established by the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce – made a series of recommendations, following noise complaints made about the airport’s parallel runway which opened in mid-2020.
The Aircraft Noise Ombudsman found Airservices Australia had not provided enough information to residents about the impacts of flight path changes.