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Decision time looms for port

PRIVATE port consortium James Point is growing in confidence that its plans for an expanded outer harbour at Cockburn Sound will win government support.

Despite the slowing economy and falling trade figures, capacity constraints at the existing inner harbour at Fremantle mean that future development of the outer harbour remains a key issue.

James Point chairman Dr Chris Whitaker said Fremantle would need additional container facilities well within the next decade.

"The date is somewhere between 2014 and 2017 and the lead times for these projects is five to six years so we're getting close to having to make a decision," Mr Whitaker told WA Business News.

"I'm very assured and confident that the discussions we're having with government are going to be very productive.

"We are hopeful of some indication from government in the near future and I don't think the government would be upset with me for saying that."

James Point has an operating agreement with the government to develop new port infrastructure known as Stage One, a land-backed bulk facility between the BP Refinery and Alcoa that could be delivered within two years.

"We've got huge demand for that already and a lot of prospective shippers really encouraging us to get on with it because there's a real shortage of facilities," Dr Whitaker said.

Murdoch University marine economist Malcolm Tull believes one of the issues is that ports traditionally develop close to a city, generating competition for land use and causing capacity constraints.

Aside from depth of water, the other constraint is road and rail access to the port and issues associated with huge container trucks rolling by residential housing.

"We still have an effective commercial port operating within the inner harbour, but there is obviously a limit to how much that can expand," Mr Tull told WA Business News.

"I think the inner harbour needs to be fazed out as a commercial port because of the problems that will continue in terms of access and congestion and so on, and be moved down to Cockburn Sound, to the outer harbour," Mr Tull said.

"The next step is to say, who provides those facilities in the outer harbour, and I personally see no problem with a role for a private provider like James Point."

Kwinana Industries Council supports the proposed relocation of port activities to the Kwinana Industrial Area in principle.

But, it had serious reservations around livestock handling and its affect on the environment.

Stage two proposes a larger container facility to be developed adjacent to the BP Refinery. James Point is in discussions with the relevant ministers on the proposal.

"We're getting great support from government for James Point and what we're talking about at this point in time is how we will bring it all off," Dr Whitaker said.

Opposition planning minister Mark McGowan has called on the government to clarify if it will reduce the number of port options it will advertise to the public.

The former Labor government shortlisted the two proposals from Fremantle Ports for a new outer harbour at Cockburn Sound.

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