Newcastle Herald, 6 October 2020
Newcastle Airport’s bid to attract funding to upgrade its runway to international status has been overlooked in the federal budget.
Despite record spending on infrastructure across the country, including $920million on road funding for the Hunter, the $65million runway upgrade, missed out.
The future of the project, which needs to commence in March 2021 to coincide with Department of Defence works to accommodate the new Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, is now unclear.
Airport chief executive Peter Cock said the airport would look at alternative sources, such regional infrastructure funding
“I remain confident that the federal government understands the importance of this project for the region and the nation,” he said.
“Upgrading this runway will provide the confidence and hope at a time that it is most needed. More importantly, it will deliver very tangible benefits.
“I have a sense of confidence that the government has a positive vision for our region, this was shown in the Prime Minister’s recent visit to the region. As the largest regional economy in Australia, the airport is ready to step up and play a key role in ensuring we remain an economic powerhouse.
The runway upgrade was among three projects that the Committee for the Hunter promoted in recent months as an opportunity to build the foundations for long-term economic diversification and to help the region recover from the coronavirus.
Committee chief executive Alice Thompson said the committee would continue to pursue funding opportunities for the project.
“There’s a lot of support for the aviation sector more generally but not for Newcastle Airport. This is really disappointing because it is time imperative,” she said.
“The Defence Minister has indicated an investment decision is needed by March 2021 and this budget was really the last chance to make a decision on the runway upgrade and get the benefit and public savings of coordinating that project with defence works.”
She said the committee would explore competitive grant funding opportunities.
“It’s too important to the region; everyone is behind this project and we will continue to work with related portfolios, infrastructure and defence to see what is possible within existing budgets to get the airport over the line,” she said.
The budget also contained measures to reduce emissions at Vales Point Power Station and as well funding to explore faster rail between Newcastle and Sydney.
Significantly, it did not contain any new funding for the M1 Black Hill to Raymond Terrace extension.
Ms Thompson said she was pleased a number of measures in the budget designed to support local government.
“There’s a lot in there for local government to be happy with such as top-ups to road safety and upgrades plus an additional $200 million for the Building Better Regions fund,” she said.