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A city of 1.3 million on Sydney’s fringe, but no hospital

It’s not as if the government is short of money in western Sydney. It’s spending up to a billion dollars relocating the Powerhouse Museum from Ultimo to Parramatta, plus a similar amount in lifting the dam wall at Warragamba.

Budgets are about priorities. In western Sydney, museums and dam walls would not rank in the top 20, whereas high-quality hospital care is a frontline necessity. The new city west of the M7 will end up being the youth capital of Australia. It warrants the construction of Sydney’s third Children’s Hospital. East Sydney has Randwick. Central Sydney has Westmead. Outer Western Sydney deserves the same level of specialist care for our children.

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There’s another planning flaw at the Aerotropolis. The development of rail links to the airport site is being driven by industrial relations concerns, instead of commonsense planning and infrastructure provision. The state government loves Metro trains because they are driverless and trade union-free. They have been a great success on the northwest line but aren’t necessarily the best fit for Badgerys Creek.

The recent state budget allocated $2 billion for a new Metro running north from the airport site to St Marys. This will mean a combined one-hour-and-40-minute trip from Badgerys Creek to Circular Quay (25 minutes on the Metro leg, 10 minutes in changing trains at St Marys and then 65 minutes on the Western line into the city).

A better alternative is to extend the existing Glenfield-to-Leppington heavy rail to Badgerys Creek and move travellers to the Sydney CBD (via East Hills) in less than an hour, without having to change trains. This would also connect Sydney’s two international airports, Mascot and Badgerys Creek, by rail – a superior option for airport workers, tourists and the city’s economic development.

Earlier this year, the Aerotropolis Authority’s chief executive Sam Sangster said he was modeling the new project on Tsukuba Science City, 50 kilometres north-east of Tokyo. Tsukuba was built in the 1960s, with Sangster admitting, “Development didn’t go very well, it went very slowly until government committed to the Tsukuba express train.” This created huge job numbers along the rail corridor – in Sangster’s words, providing, “A prime example of how train connections can make or break development.”

An artist’s impression of residential neighbourhoods  for the Western Sydney Aerotropolis.

An artist’s impression of residential neighbourhoods  for the Western Sydney Aerotropolis. Credit:NSW government

Exactly. Why then is Badgerys Creek being connected to Sydney with a 1 hour 40 minute slow-coach trip? Sydney’s international tourism reputation has suffered enough with the CBD lockout laws. The last thing we need is the embarrassment of a new international airport opening in 2026 with lengthy rail travelling times on the wrong line.

I’m worried that federal/state planning for outer western Sydney has taken a limited, isolationist view of the region. The Penrith-Camden corridor is being conceived as a satellite city, with a focus on north-south transport links, instead of the east-west connections that would turn it into a dynamic, functional part of the broader metropolitan area.

Only through urban integration can the employment potential of the commercial land around the airport site be maximised, meeting the government’s promise of 200,000 new Aerotropolis jobs.

Thirty years ago, when the campaign for building Badgerys Creek Airport started, there was concern it could be a white elephant. Critics said that without rapid transit links into the centre of Sydney, international tourists, airlines and businesses wouldn’t take it seriously. Incredibly, we are still waiting for federal and state governments to address this concern.

Mark Latham is the state leader of One Nation and a NSW MLC.

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