Updated February 28, 2021 13:17:52
Land values around Australia’s new international airport have taken off — but it’s corporations, not residents, cashing in.
A few strands of wire is all that separates Peter Srzich from millions of dollars.
His 2 hectare property has a house, some sheds and a few pigs and goats.
It is directly opposite the $5.3 billion Western Sydney airport, due to open at Badgerys Creek in 2026.
Next door is the Leppington Pastoral Company — one of Australia’s largest dairy farms, situated on a 519ha property owned by brothers Ron and Tony Perich.
That simple wire fence divides two worlds.
The Leppington Pastoral Company will be redeveloped as part of the first stage of Western Sydney’s so-called “Aerotropolis”.
The hub will, according to planning documents, “be Australia’s next global gateway”.
The airport represents a potential bonanza for developers and landowners, sparking fierce lobbying over zoning — the key to cashing in.
Peter’s land is too close to the airport to be used for housing, but it also doesn’t figure in early Aerotropolis plans.
It’s earmarked to be an “employment zone” in the future, but no-one can tell Peter or his neighbours when that might be.
That means some small owners like Peter are finding their properties almost impossible to sell.
They claim the plans have been drawn up to favour large landowners, who have the power and money to lobby government hard.
“We are a speck of dust that doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. We’re a pain in the backside,” Peter said.
Peter and his wife Diane bought their property 60km from Sydney’s CBD in 1990.
The couple were aware that one day, an airport would be built nearby and Peter can even remember the project’s first visitor’s centre on Badgerys Creek road in the mid-90s.
“Everything looked like it was going ahead, and then all of a sudden, the information centre looked like a derelict house, within six months, and they pulled it down and everything went quiet,” he said.
After multiple backflips by successive governments, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced in April 2014 the airport would be built.
The Western City and Aerotropolis Authority was set up in 2018 to manage the land around the airport — the 11,200ha site was to be the catalyst for 200,000 jobs.
The Aerotropolis has 10 precincts, zoned as agribusiness, environment and recreation, enterprise, infrastructure, and mixed use, which can be for housing and employment.
There are 2,344 landowners in the area.
Most hold only a couple of hectares and their power to influence planning is limited.
Peter’s land, along with hundreds of his neighbours, was initially part of the agribusiness zone, but then everything changed.
In 2019, the plans showed their land was to be a “flexible employment” zone but not in the first stage of development.
“All of a sudden, the zoning [changed] and we discovered we were being left on the shelf,” he said.
A 2019 NSW government report on the feasibility of the agribusiness precinct noted one of the criteria for selecting the land should be to “minimise the number of landowners”.
The final plan stated the high-density employment areas and their “associated large unfragmented landholdings” would be prioritised.
The report noted it was possible to develop multiple lots if the landowners combined to negotiate a sale.
So Peter banded together with 250 neighbours and lobbied the government to include their 755ha precinct in the first stage, but it has made no difference.
Some land will be ‘worthless’
Silvana Di-iorio and her husband Walter bought their 2.7ha block at Bringelly in 1988.
At the time, Silvana was aware an airport might be built in the future.
“We thought, well, if it does go ahead, the most we need to worry about is a bit of noise, and we were willing to live with that,” she said.
“If we couldn’t, we could always sell and go.”
Their three children have grown up there, riding horses and enjoying the land, which runs down to South Creek.
Silvana’s property is part of the initial stage of the Aerotropolis development.
When the blueprint was released in 2018, their land was designated an environmental zone.
“In the environmental zone, you can’t touch it,” she said.
“That was our understanding, you won’t be able to do anything with your land, you won’t be able to sell it.
“It will be basically worthless.”
Silvana and her neighbours made submissions on the draft plans, which resulted in her property being zoned half environmental and half mixed use.
South Creek, or Wianamatta as it is known in the Dharung language of the First Nations people who lived in the area, is the longest freshwater stream in Sydney.
According to planning documents, Wianamatta will form part of the project’s “green spine”.
Along nearby Thompsons Creek, 37 of Silvana’s neighbours will have their properties acquired by the NSW government to establish a park, but her land is not in that plan.
“It’s really, really awful. We feel like our whole lives are tied up,” she said.
“I’ve started having panic attacks.”
A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) says “nothing has been finalised”.
“Some properties proposed to be rezoned as environment land are also partially proposed to be rezoned for enterprise, agribusiness or mixed use, which could mean a multi-million-dollar windfall for these landowners,” they said.
Mapping the riches
Land values in the suburbs of Luddenham, Badgerys Creek and Bringelly, where Peter and Silvana live, began accelerating when the airport was confirmed in 2014.
An ABC analysis of properties in the area reveals just how much is at stake.
Last year, Badgerys Creek land was valued at $1.4 million per hectare, six times what it was in 2016.
In the farming community of Greendale, just 12km away, land values only broke the $100,000 per hectare mark in 2016.
Most of the land in the 11,200ha Aerotropolis is made up of small lots.
Just a handful of owners hold the largest parcels of land the Aerotropolis authority has said it wants to prioritise for development.
This 308ha property is in the lucrative Aerotropolis core — it belongs to Citiwest Developments, a company owned by the Perich family.
Part of the land is zoned environmental and will be acquired by the federal government for a park.
The Ingham family, which began farming chickens in Western Sydney in 1918, owns this 182ha property.
This 162ha holding has been owned by the University of Sydney since 1936.
One of the largest chunks of land is owned by prominent Western Sydney developer Roy Medich.
He and his brother Ron bought the 344ha property from the CSIRO in 1997.
This 211ha farm has been in the Waterhouse thoroughbred racing family for 50 years.
The biggest winner will be the Leppington Pastoral Company, which owns this 519ha block.
The Perich Group, which owns the Leppington Pastoral Company, was included in the early feasibility studies of the Aerotropolis, as a major stakeholder.
It owns 36 per cent of the agribusiness zone.
The ABC contacted all major landowners, relevant governments and planning authorities for comment.
‘You don’t ask, you don’t get’
The large landowners have been laying the groundwork to capitalise on their holdings for years.
It started in 2006, when the University of Sydney banded together with the Medich brothers and another landowner to form the Badgerys Creek consortium.
With the help of former Labor Senator Graham Richardson, they lobbied local councils and the planning minister to rezone their holdings from rural to employment use.
The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) probed the issue, and found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Last December the area was rezoned to enterprise, with the Valuer-General’s assessment estimating the price of the land owned by the Medich brothers had subsequently risen from $34 million to $87 million.
It’s likely worth more — in recent ICAC hearings it was revealed the land could be sold to Chinese developers for $500 million in a yet-to-be-completed deal.
The Waterhouse Group has owned a farm to the west of the airport for more than 50 years, but there’s a problem.
Nearly all of the land is outside the boundary of the Aerotropolis, and zoned for farming.
The Waterhouse Group has met 13 government agencies over several years to lobby for changes to the Aerotropolis boundary.
In secret phone taps played to ICAC, disgraced NSW MP Daryl Maguire offered to help Waterhouse Group director Louise Raedler-Waterhouse have the road moved and the land rezoned.
He set up meetings with NSW government officials and suggested Premier Gladys Berejiklian, with whom he was in a close, personal relationship at the time, would give the project “a tickle from up top” .
Ms Berejiklian denies any wrongdoing.
So far, the lobbying has not had an impact.
A person close to large landowners near the airport told the ABC transparency and competitive tenders were paramount in the negotiations.
They claimed that, at the moment, the government appeared to be “gifting a monopoly to one large landowner”.
The DPIE spokesperson said: “The Department has never made an agreement with any individual or business regarding what land was to be rezoned in any area.”
The Perich family also owned their farm long before an airport was in the works, and the company has fought the federal government on several issues about the project.
They hung on to a 12ha block of land on the airport site for 20 years — an area since dubbed the “Leppington Triangle” — before the federal government paid $28.9 million for it in 2018 .
The Auditor-General later found the price was 10 times higher than it was worth and the matter is now the subject of a probe by the Australian Federal Police.
Peter has no beef with his wealthy neighbours, but he thinks government decisions have favoured them.
“I’ve got no problem with what they’re doing. You don’t ask, you don’t get,” he said.
“But it’s the bureaucrats and politicians that fawn on them, and allow the ease of that instigation, that’s what I’ve got a problem with.”
He says that by the time he can realise the best price for his land, it will be too late.
“When you’re 61, it becomes, oh well, it’s OK for the kids, but I’d like to do something with it now, to retire properly,” he said.
Silvana is frustrated with what she claims is a lack of answers from NSW planning bureaucrats.
She worries about what will happen if she, or her husband, get sick and need to sell.
“Who is going to buy it, what are we going to get for it, can we even move on? It’s scary.”
The Western Sydney Aerotropolis precinct has had its public consultation period extended until March 12.
- What is Bitcoin, how does it work and what is the current value in pounds sterling?
- Alarm over soaring world meat consumption
- Value of Art Questioned as UN Unveils Masterpiece
- The Acid Profiteers: Drop-Out, Turn-On, Cash-In
- Afghanistan's poppy cultivation soars, despite US efforts
- Greedy MPs STILL milking the system with expenses soaring 40% in just five years
- How to make extra cash before Christmas, from flogging your unwanted stuff to switching bank account
- From Emma Stone in La La Land to sci-fi Passengers, you won’t want to skip on the cinema this month
- La La Land terms and conditions
- Does South Dallas Need City Hall to Save It? Does Anybody?
- CMP submits last-minute change to its power line plan
- Lender: I hope every credit trainer remembers 1980s lessons
- Your old diesel car might not be worthless – Auto Trader reveals sale prices are going UP
- My Family’s Life Inside and Outside America’s Racial Categories
- The 12 times the world faced global disaster through nuclear war, economic crashes and natural disasters
- Get more bang for your buck for Guy Fawkes night this weekend with our top tips— plus find out how to win £5,000 with Sun Savers
- Ethers Down Under
- Examining the implications of the Indo-Iranian Chabahar port deal
- US, European stocks down after China rout
- Images: Our Beautiful Earth
Western Sydney Aerotropolis land values are soaring, but not everyone is able to cash in have 2238 words, post on www.abc.net.au at February 28, 2021. This is cached page on Asean News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.