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Planning for Sydney’s new airport city won’t include sustainability targets

Sam Sangster
Sam Sangster, Western City and Aerotropolis Authority

Western Sydney rising: Planners for Sydney’s aerotropolis know they have to contend with a warming climate but they don’t believe sustainability targets are the way to go.

Sustainability will be “front and centre” of the new city being built around Sydney’s second airport but planning won’t include specific sustainability goals or prescribe water or energy technologies, says Western City and Aerotropolis Authority (WCAA) chief executive officer Sam Sangster.

Acutely aware of the heat island impact in Western Sydney, Aerotropolis planners are investigating the role parkland and trees might have in cooling the developments around the airport.

The authority is also working closely with utility providers such as Sydney Water, but it remains “technology agnostic” about the solutions that might be deployed to cope with Western Sydney’s heating climate, says Sangster.

“We need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve,” Sangster told The Fifth Estate in a recent interview.

“I don’t believe it is our role to be picking technologies,” he says. “One of the things in this field is that technology is changing so fast, the economics of the technology change enormously. For example, look at the [rapidly changing] economics of solar power.

“We are not going to necessarily set [sustainability] goals; we keep coming back to wanting to create an amazing place … a highly-resilient, high-quality place and if you stick to that it will drive the outcomes.”

Sangster’s career spans both the public and private sectors, including time spent with some of Australia’s largest ASX-listed companies and professional service firms. He also worked with the Victorian Government and the private sector on multi-billion dollar projects such as Melbourne’s Docklands.

Foundation partners

The NSW government hopes the aerotropolis will become a thriving economic hub delivering new jobs, homes, infrastructure and services to Western Sydney, and

bring Western Sydney’s residents closer to realising a 30-minute city. 

It claims the aerotropolis will make a significant contribution to 200,000 new jobs for Western Sydney over the next 20 years, with a focus on four key sectors:  airport and tourism; health and education; advanced manufacturing, aerospace and defence, and; agribusiness.

The government has signed more than a dozen memorandums of understanding with companies and education institutions, including with global defence powerhouse BAE Systems, to deliver a new space and research centre at the airport city, and GE Additive, which is considering developing industrial-scale 3D printing there.

The MOUs are very important, says Sangster. “They are intentions to work on the next step of the process and [those who sign them] become foundation partners to work with us, to co-design the outcomes.

“We will then look to convert those MOUs into commercially-binding tenancies or having those companies base themselves at the aerotropolis. By signing those MOUs they are flagging a serious intent … You don’t sign an MOU with the premier of a state lightly.”

If the airport city is to succeed as an attractive business destination, it must offer domestic and international organisations and their employees a package deal: great jobs close to affordable housing, and an attractive lifestyle.

“The whole of Sydney is incredibly attractive if you are coming from overseas,” says Sangster, adding that new arrivals don’t bring preconceived ideas with them about the west.

Clean, green image

“You see Sydney and you see Penrith Lakes, the Nepean River and the Blue Mountains and you see the ability to lead an incredible lifestyle in an area well-served by great recreation spaces.

“We have enviable skills in this state and in this country and that is what is attracting these investors … our competition in the region is a place like Singapore. When you are weighing it up, do you want to live in Singapore or would you like to live in Sydney’s Penrith, with an enviable outdoor lifestyle, near the Blue Mountains, and live in a clean-air environment?”

He says the importance of Australia’s “clean green image” shouldn’t be underestimated both for attracting overseas workers and for the development of agribusiness in the aerotropolis.

“We are perceived to have a clean environment in which to produce food and that is seen to be really important,” he says.

He says Sydney Markets, currently operating out of Flemington 16 kilometres west of Sydney’s harbour CBD, only exports a small amount of farm produce. Discussions are underway about relocating the markets to the aerotropolis to provide producers with faster access to international markets.

Discussions are also underway with major players in the fresh produce sector about opportunities to add value to produce before it is exported.

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