Newcastle Airport expansion and commercial transformation cause more angst for Cabbage Tree Road couple in wake of PFAS contamination

STANDING FIRM: Jenny and Terry Robinson fear the development of Newcastle Airport and its surrounds will only further impact on rural residents. Picture: Sam Norris
STANDING FIRM: Jenny and Terry Robinson fear the development of Newcastle Airport and its surrounds will only further impact on rural residents. Picture: Sam Norris

The growth of a commercial precinct around Newcastle Airport is tipped to deliver economic prosperity in years to come but rural residents like Terry and Jenny Robinson feel it will only cost them. 

"I don't know if it ends up being a second international airport but the money developers are spending is scary," Mr Robinson said.

The Cabbage Tree Road and Lavis Lane surrounds have been the subject of keen interest to developers in recent years.

Among them is development firm Crawford Robinson's plans for an $80 million bulky goods retail site, which remains in planning limbo.

The Knightsbridge group's integrated tourist development, including 50-room hotel, had an estimated value of $11.5 million when lodged with Port Stephens Council in 2013. 

Another with a view to the future is property developer James Garvey, who has a stake in lots 40 and 52a Cabbage Tree Road, presently zoned rural with plans before council to carry out earthworks on the 6.2 hectare site. Newcastle Airport also confirmed this month that it will develop a 76 hectare site for the 20-year expansion of its business and technology park. CEO Peter Cock said any surrounding commercial development was complimentary to its activities if done right.

“We respect our neighbours and see a unique landscape of aviation, aerospace, commercial and rural environment as being a strength for the region. A diverse mix is required to continue to create a vibrant and thriving local economy, noting that good land use planning is the best way to avoid conflicting uses.” 

"Overwhelming" was how the Robinsons described it in a landscape contaminated with PFAS fire fighting chemicals.

Mr Robinson said a mixture of supressed property values and exhausted residents would leave people vulnerable to low-ball offers.

"There are a lot of developers running around here picking off different properties. They could pay us $1 million and it wouldn't be enough," Mr Robinson said.

"We're 20 minutes from Newcastle, there's all this [grass] feed for the horses, where else would we find something like this, near to everything?"

Having fought breast cancer and Defence there’s no question of Mrs Robinson walking away despite the now frequent surveying and monitoring activities.

"I feel like it's a massive invasion of our privacy," she said.

In one of those instances a road appeared to materialise before their eyes on their back boundary, to service a tower for remote meter reading. 

"We've now got roads on three sides of us and its like a retention pond," Mrs Robinson said.

Directly opposite their Cabbage Tree Road farm is another development where Mr Garvey has sought permission from the council to bring clean fill onto the rural property.

The Robinsons fear this will only compound the area’s inundation issues.

Untapped Planning has applied to the council on Mr Garvey’s behalf to apply fill to about one third of the 6.2 hectare site. Sourced from NorthConnex as Mr Garvey told the NSW Inquiry into the Defence Industry in August.

“With this amount of fill it would have a negligible impact on flood levels,” Untapped Planning principal Leonard Allen said.

“The loss of flood storage is approximately 10,750 cubic metres which equates to 0.06 per cent of the catchment’s capacity. The perception that there will be impacts and the reality are quite different.” 

Dr Cock said “development of PFAS contaminated land” was an “appropriate use in creating economic opportunity for the region”.

“We are encouraged by the restored confidence in Williamtown and surrounding suburbs; the growth in development around the airport is very complementary to our plans for expansion to meet the needs of the local community as it continues to grow,” he said.