Before it has even fired a shot in anger, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has destroyed the value of thousands of homes in the Port Stephens area through revised noise exposure boundaries imposed last week  by local government following secret negotiations with the Department of Defence.

The result in recent weeks has been a Plane Truth movement, driven by the Medowie Progress Association and a local councillor Geoff Dingle.

The Williamtown RAAF base and the nearby Salt Ash Air Weapons Range near Newcastle will be major centres of activity for the JSF when Australia takes delivery of up to 100 of currently troubled aircraft from 2018.

It has been officially acknowledged for the past four years that the JSF will be blisteringly noisy, beyond the acoustic intensity associated with the RAAF’s FA 18 Hornets and Super Hornets.

However, this isn’t a story about the capabilities of the JSF but the injustice of arbitrary decisions that destroy the value of private property.

The Port Stephens Council and the Department of Defence have been accused of conspiring to keep those who would be severely compromised by the noise issues out of the loop until consultation is irrelevant.

Public meetings have also queried the peculiar exclusion of  a new “flagship” residential development at Kings Hill near Williamtown from the severely affected zones in the new noise exposure maps published by the Port Stephens Council,

It wouldn’t matter what future fighter choice Defence made. This is being argued by Plane Truth supporters as being about Defence and local government indifference to working with the community, in an area where Defence generates a significant proportion of direct and indirect economic activity, and de facto, sees itself as the inviolable authority on planning issues impacting on its plans for Williamtown and the weapons range.

The declaration of new noise zones based an ANEF 20 or above noise energy exposure contour has wiped out the current and future value of thousands of properties in the Port Stephens area, according to Plane Truth and Geoff Dingle.

At above these levels these homes are predicted to become uninhabitable beyond 2020-2025 without costly insulation or modification, and with no outdoor amenity.  The publication of the new noise zones shrinks the valuations of existing homes, with serious consequences for the lenders and owners who are party to existing mortgages, destroys resale values and renders unoccupied land unsuitable for if not prohibited from, subdivision for new homes.

Dingle, and others, have suggested that part of the problem of the new noise energy exposure maps could be solved by extending the existing 8200 feet long Williamtown runway by a further 8000 feet eastwards, which could favourably shift the predicated levels away from many of the properties now affected.

Although not mentioned in the current debate, Williamtown also faces the further issue of strong growth in airliner activity from the civilian section of the facility, which includes the Newcastle Airport terminal area.

One of the many ironies of the Sydney airport crisis is that Newcastle and the lower Hunter doesn’t have any clear alternative to its future airport needs other than Sydney, while the delusion persists at a state government level that Newcastle is the solution, via a very fast train, to Sydney’s problems.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey