Web_m324213NOT everyone was pleased about the announcement last week, by the Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, that an area between Lang Lang and Koo Wee Rup will be investigated as the site for Melbourne’s third airport. Some local landowners and farmers, with homes and businesses in the Caldermeade/Monomeath area, are fearful of the impact of the decision and they let their views be known last Friday afternoon at the local announcement of the plan, under Koo Wee Rup’s clock tower.

“Do they realise this whole area can get very wet. If they build it here they might find it has sunk down into the swamp,” said one vocal opponent of the proposal. Another female landowner drew a link between the proposed airport and the Koo Wee Rup bypass, on which construction is due to commence next month. “They’ve removed the traffic but now they are going to have planes flying over us instead.” Another resident doubted the depth of planning that had gone into the airport proposal saying that the bypass bridges would not clear the rail reserve which might be needed to service the airport. Released as one of the main recommendations in ‘Plan Melbourne’, a document which charts the course of Melbourne’s development until 2050, the airport plan has, however, been hailed by the Committee for Gippsland, the Cardinia Shire and many South Gippslanders as offering huge local benefits.

Mary Aldred, CEO of the Committee for Gippsland, who also attended the announcement last week, described it as a “major win for the region” generating 8000 direct jobs and thousands more indirectly, while helping to alleviate congestion on Melbourne’s freeways and provide an enormous boost to tourism and the development of Gippsland as the food bowl for Asia. “We would hope now, after the Victorian Government has settled on a strategic location they would consider fast-tracking it as quickly as possible in terms of planning and other processes that need to be undertaken,” she said. But at last week’s announcement, three local MPs sought to hose down the immediate impact of the decision.

Quick to sniff the breeze of discontent, Bass MP Ken Smith stressed that no site had been identified. “If you are a landowner or you’ve got a house don’t get uptight. It’s going to take time. It’s a 40-year plan,” Mr Smith said, also acknowledging that the area was originally a swamp. “You don’t want the situation if they landed a jumbo jet here, they might never get it out,” he said with a smile. The Member for Gembrook Brad Battin welcomed the announcement but also said it was a matter of planning for the future. “I’m sorry to have to say it Ken, but you mightn’t get the chance to drive into an airport here.” Mr Smith turns 70 next year. Eastern Victoria MP, Edward O’Donohue, was unreserved in his support for the airport saying it dovetailed nicely into the government’s new infrastructure projects including the Port of Hastings development and the East-West freeway link.

He said the project would create hundreds of jobs and be a big benefit to business in the region. “Further work will be required before a specific location can be confirmed,” he said. “In the short term, the Coalition will update the State Planning Police Framework to clarify the role and function of Melbourne’s airports, including the potential south-west airport. “It is important to remember that this is a long-term proposal and does not in any way involve discussions to close or alter operations at Tooradin or Moorabin airports.” He closed by encouraging local residents to have their say on Plan Melbourne, until December 6, 2013. Several Cardinia Shire Councillors attended the announcement and also tried to dampen concern about the location, saying the airport could be located anywhere in the shire, not just in the Lang Lang-Koo Wee Rup area.

Cr Graham Moore asked whether a rail link would be part of the project and recommended that planes be directed to take-off and land over the water to minimise impact. “It depends where it is located,” said one of the MPs. Cr David Young moved to assuage local fears, saying he hoped that a site could be identified soon so that the community would have some certainty going forward. “It’s up to the community to have some input now into the location,” he said.