A longtime anti-noise campaigner has raised concerns that the new Jerrabomberra High School site is too close to the Canberra Airport, exposing staff and students to unacceptably high noise levels for outside activities, playground activities or sport.
Allan Rees, now retired and living on the South Coast, was president of the No Aircraft Noise Party (NAN) and a NAN councillor on Marrickville Council from 1995 to 1999. He has matched the site map for the new school with the Canberra Airport noise exposure forecast and believes that the school site will be within the 20 Air Noise Exposure Forecast (ANEF) contour.
Three ANEF contour lines, ranging from 20 to 30, define escalating levels of noise exposure. Schools located in areas above the 20 ANEF contour are required to have noise insulation that complies with Australian Standard AS 2021 – 2015 Acoustics – Aircraft Noise Intrusion – Building Siting and Construction.
“Expansion of airport runway facilities, increased airport use, change in flight patterns, and additional residential development close to existing airports will increase the likelihood of adverse aircraft noise impacts being experienced by the community unless aircraft noise is specifically taken into account in the planning process,” the standards state.
But Mr Rees said that even if the school buildings are appropriately insulated, noise levels beneath the flight path will significantly disrupt outdoor activities.
“I’m interested in planning for good living conditions in our schools and living areas,” he said.
“A better approach is not to build new schools in noisy locations as outdoor activities will be adversely affected.
“If you’re playing a game that requires calling to each other, that becomes impossible. If you’re doing outside nature-based classwork, it’s very disruptive. We are talking about a site that’s only 8 km from the end of the Canberra Airport’s main runway.”
Housing development plans for Jerrabomberra – and the Tralee site in particular – have long been plagued by concerns over potential noise issues. The Village Building Company and Canberra Airport reached an agreement in 2013 that development could proceed but that each buyer would acknowledge in the contract of sale that the estate would be subject to airport noise.
The contracts recognise that noise will increase as the airport grows and that the airport needs to remain curfew free. Plans to establish an express airfreight market that offers export alternatives to Sydney Airport are contingent on that status.
But Mr Rees said that residents in other areas across Jerrabomberra are concerned that if the airport is ringed by housing there will be a push to spread the noise, as happens at Sydney Airport.
“It’s ridiculous to site a new school on an existing flight path,” he said, referring to the long battle in Sydney over the development of the third runway at Mascot.
“There are lots of schools on flight paths where it becomes very difficult. In Sydney, existing schools and homes have been subject to ever-increasing aircraft noise. That’s managed somewhat by spreading the noise, but it’s still not acceptable.
“Lots of the land at Jerrabomberra is outside the 20 ANEF contour, and people will still find the noise intrusive. But it appears that the school is right on the flight path. I can’t see any reason why affordable housing and community facilities need to be in noisy places.”
Mr Rees said that he’s been contacted in the past by community groups who were keen to understand how the third runway battle had played out in Sydney and what lessons could be learned.
He points out that in Sydney, existing development made it almost impossible to mitigate the noise risks from the third runway and spreading the noise became the only solution.
Matters became even more complex when factories beneath the flight path were closed and developers moved into the abandoned industrial sites. Limited insulation schemes were introduced for buildings in very high noise zones – above the 30 ANEF contour – but Mr Rees said there’s an opportunity to do better in Jerrabomberra.
“If there’s an existing flight path, then you shouldn’t build there was our position”, he said. “I spent four years as councillor and I’m always interested in how planning works and how it fails. There’s a chance to do this well, and for the sake of the students of the future, the NSW Government should take the opportunity and site the school somewhere else”.
Region Media has contacted the Member for Monaro John Barilaro’s office, the NSW Department of Education and Canberra Airport for comment.