Ask anybody about the future of Penrith and it won’t be long before Western Sydney International Airport enters the conversation.
For many residents, the conversation is about aircraft noise. Granted, this appears it will be a significant issue for Penrith – made more problematic by the fact the local Federal MP is not part of the sitting government. Melissa McIntosh can only make so much noise, so to speak, from opposition.
For others though, the opening of the airport in 2026 is about opportunity.
We keep hearing that word.
Businesses in Penrith and St Marys are constantly being told about the significant flow-on impact they’re going to receive from the airport. Upgrade your till, because the economic boost will be huge.
Tourism operators are being told to prepare for major growth as well, with expectations the airport may change the way the regions that surround it operate.
All of this is true, of course. The airport is indeed a game changer.
But is Penrith truly prepared for it?
There’s a number of high profile people who will tell you quietly that they fear Penrith will miss out on a lot of this ‘opportunity’.
That Liverpool, the other Local Government Area that straddles the airport, has the jump on Penrith.
That it has positioned itself better for these opportunities. That Mayor Ned Mannoun wakes up thinking about Western Sydney Airport and how Liverpool can benefit from it, and goes to sleep thinking about the same thing.
Already, a number of big businesses have strategically relocated to the Liverpool Local Government Area in preparation for the airport’s arrival.
There is no question Liverpool is in ‘embrace’ mode when it comes to the airport.
Penrith must be careful that is not left behind through this process. It cannot miss out on the full economic benefits the airport can bring, and the airport’s biggest legacy for Penrith can’t be aircraft noise.
Earlier this year, Penrith City Council was preparing to spend around $200,000 on an overseas study trip to Amsterdam, the United Kingdom and Paris.
The study trip would have seen then Mayor Tricia Hitchen, then Deputy Mayor Todd Carney and up to three Council Officers visit various cities to understand the impact of airports at their doorsteps and how to take advantage of such developments.
But the mainstream media got hold of the concept, and the public quickly put it to the pub test. It failed dismally, and Council made the call to abandon the trip.
Everyone applauded at the time, but Council should have been brave enough to stick with the plan. It was short-sighted to axe it.
The trip would have seen the touring party visit cities that have a second international airport, the associated connecting rail infrastructure, the surrounding cities and industry mix and residential density mix.
They would have visited CBD centres in proximity to the airport and infrastructure, and seen comparable examples of best practice in regional development with connecting rail corridors, such as the UK and Schiphol airport in Amsterdam.
Exploring industry development and the associated investment opportunities that are expected to arise from an aerotropolis with agribusiness and advanced manufacturing precincts would have also been on the agenda.
The trip wasn’t about visiting Big Ben or the Tower of London or catching a musical on the West End.
Everything on the agenda would have played an important role in developing Penrith’s strategy to tackle the arrival of the airport, ensuring it could be in the best possible position to benefit local business, industry and residents.
To suggest it be done over a few Zoom calls or having a detailed look at Google Maps is amateur hour and again, short-sighted.
So is suggesting Council should just focus on roads, rates and rubbish. We have moved on from that argument, surely.
The public backlash was understandable – it’s how these stories often flow – but it was never looked at in proper context and a significant opportunity has been missed here.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come back to bite Penrith on the backside.
A lot of business people I speak to are excited about what the airport may bring, but they’re light on detail about what the end result will actually be.
What kind of growth? What kind of people? How many? What should they be doing now to prepare for 2026?
The trouble that our elected leaders face is that they are balancing the concerns Penrith must put forward with the flight paths, with the obvious benefits that are there to be taken if the right things are in place.
As a city we have always been cautious about the airport, almost apathetic to it. It is only now, a couple of years out from opening, that we realise we’re about to live with this thing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
We therefore need to take advantage of the positives that come out of it, and ensure that whenever a choice is there to be made, Penrith wins out over Liverpool.
There will always be naysayers. There’s still people who think we shouldn’t have built the extension to Penrith Plaza and probably someone out there who would rather High Street be a dirt road.
Time to leave the naysayers behind and, like Liverpool, enter full embrace mode.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.