Election to determine road, port future

06/02/2017 - 15:01

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SPECIAL REPORT: Two Perth mayors have more at stake than most if the controversial Roe 8 contract is ripped up, having both devoted decades fighting on opposite sides of the debate.

Election to determine road, port future
Both Russell Aubrey (left) and Logan Howlett are passionate about Roe 8, although they have divergent views of the project’s merits. Photo: Attila Csaszar

SPECIAL REPORT: Two Perth mayors have more at stake than most if the controversial Roe 8 contract is ripped up, having both devoted decades fighting on opposite sides of the debate.

Labor’s pledge to tear up the Roe 8 contract if it wins the March state election has made the building of the Perth Freight Link, and timing of an outer harbour, flashpoints in the lead up to polling day.

The state’s two major parties are engaged in a tit-for-tat battle of competing transport infrastructure plans ahead of next month’s election, with the addition of competing local government voices to the debate highlighting how polarised the issue has become. 

The Barnett government has pressed ahead with preliminary work on the $540 million road project amid protests and legal challenges, while Mark McGowan-led Labor has vowed to  build an outer harbour in Kwinana.

Meanwhile, a diversity of opinions remains concerning the future of Fremantle Ports.

In early January, Labor reignited public discussion about the two options by committing to overturn the contract to extend Roe Highway to Stock Road if the party secures government.

That move was followed by an announcement by the Liberal-led government that the second phase of the project would be a tunnel, Roe 9, at an estimated cost of $900 million, bringing the Perth Freight Link’s price tag close to its original $1.6 billion budget.

Opposition transport spokesperson Rita Saffioti told Business News Labor believed a second port would be needed as soon as possible, and that the road would then be redundant.

“Our argument is larger than Roe 8,” Ms Saffioti said.

“We believe that to secure our economic future we need to have that second port at Kwinana.”

The plan would involve upgrades to Tonkin Highway, Anketell Road and Rowley Road.

However, City of Melville Mayor Russell Aubrey, whose council receives most of the truck traffic that Perth Freight Link would absorb, told Business News he believed Labor’s approach might prove expensive, with the harbour and additional infrastructure costing up to $10 billion.

“Upgrades to Anketell Road (would) cost $1 billion, upgrades to Rowley Road $1 billion, providing the rail links that would be required, upwards of $1 billion,” he said.

On top of that, Mr Aubrey said a report commissioned by the Melville council had estimated at least $820 million of local road upgrades would be needed to deal with congestion if Roe 8 did not proceed.

That figure would include grade separation at Leach Highway’s intersections with Stock Road and North Lake Road.

One possible hurdle for Labor comes from the federal government, which has said it would not reallocate its $1.2 billion of Freight Link funds to other WA projects.

Ms Saffioti was confident an agreement on that could be reached, however.

An additional factor to reduce the cost to the state government of Roe 8 if it proceeds would be the freight toll, Mr Aubrey said, which would recoup most of the initial outlay.

Harbouring questions

Considerable debate remains about exactly when a new port will be needed.

The state government’s position has been that Fremantle Ports may have at least two decades left before it reaches capacity.

There is some flexibility, with Premier Colin Barnett having flagged building of a live export facility in Kwinana with funding generated by a sale of Western Power.

Under the lease agreement planned for Fremantle Ports, a new private operator would be empowered to make the decision on when a new port was needed and be responsible for funding it.

That would mean a lower burden on the state budget and a stronger incentive to maximise utilisation of existing port assets.

On the flipside, City of Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt and City of Cockburn Mayor Logan Howlett are among those advocating for a move to an outer harbour.

Mr Howlett told Business News planning needed to start now for a harbour to be ready in seven years.

He said the existing port wouldn’t be deep enough or have the right infrastructure for new, larger super container carriers.

“Having looked at some of the new outer harbours in the eastern states, they’re far more efficient, they have great connectivity with freight rail networks,” Mr Howlett said

A big benefit would be employment opportunities, he added, particularly for young people suffering from the high unemployment in Perth’s southern region.

Labor has estimated the cost of the new harbour to be around $3 billion, and said it will be open to sourcing private funding.

But speaking at a recent debate, Treasurer Mike Nahan said that with high excess capacity at the existing port, the developer of the new outer harbour would either need a financial guarantee from the government or would charge higher freight fees.

“Why would you spend (take Labor’s costings) $3 billion to build a new port and do huge environmental damage to the sound, if you have 20- 30 years capacity?” he said.

“If Labor wins you’re going to kill Roe 8 and you're never going to build that outer harbour.

“The Greens will get up, the mob at Roe 8 will move over to (Cockburn) Sound and stop you.” 

One major issue of contention among outer harbour proponents has been the future of the existing Fremantle Ports, with a plan floated by the City of Kwinana last year suggesting an outer harbour infrastructure package would be funded by $3 billion of land sales on North Quay.

“We support the City of Fremantle in terms of having a working port still within Fremantle, but of course that would over time be phased out,” Mr Howlett said.

Mr Pettitt would like the working port retained, capped at 600,000 TEUs (twenty-foot container equivalent units) annually, down from more than 700,000 currently.

He said the opening moves would be to shift live sheep trade, bulk metals and roll-on, roll-off cars to Cockburn Sound and redevelop land on the south side of the port.

“We see that as an overflow harbour rather than a replacement harbour,” Mr Pettitt said.

Melville’s Mr Aubrey contended that building Roe 8 would extend the life of the existing port facility.

“Once Roe Highway is completed to the port it extends the capacity of the current port from 1.2 million TEUs to 2.1 million,” he said.

And Mr Aubrey disputed suggestions the outer harbour would be a job creator, saying it would just shift them from the current port further south.

Driving

Mr Aubrey said light vehicle movements were expected to grow 50 per cent in the next 15 years, with daily road users to be the biggest beneficiaries of Roe 8.

“We need Roe Highway to get congestion, pollution and trauma of our roads,” he said.

He’s also got Western Australian Road Transport Association Inc officer Cam Dumesny on side.

Mr Dumesny said the road was important to ensure freight could efficiently be moved to port to keep exports globally competitive.

About 45 per cent of the end cost of a product was landside transport in WA, he said.

Mr Pettitt said he was concerned a decision on how the highway would cross the Swan River into the port was still potentially years off.

The there was the lack of clarity about the alignment of a potential Roe 9 tunnel and its impact on residents, he said.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief executive Deidre Willmott took a middle view, saying both the new harbour and road were needed.

“In our view, both need to happen, at the right time,” Ms Willmott said.

Fremantle Ports would continue to be used for decades, with capacity to be reached in the next 10 to 20 years, she said, while it would take time to plan freight routes.

Ms Willmott said industry had been very unhappy when the previous Labor state government had moved to sell off the Roe 8 road reserve.

There's an environmental element to the debate, too.

Melville's Mr Howlett believes the wetlands are one of the last pristine locations in the metro area where people can go to enjoy nature.

“My wife and I have been opposed to Roe 8 for probably 30 years now,” Mr Howlett told Business News.

“We’ve been crawling around on our hands and knees (in the wetlands), for want of a better term, clearing away weeds, rubbish.”

He said he was concerned about the impact on local fauna such as the Carnaby’s Cockatoo, on indigenous heritage sites, and that environmental offsets promised by the government would be insufficient.

Public transport

Beyond Roe 8, one area where politicians seem to be in agreement is building the Forrestfield-Airport Rail Line, which is currently under way and expected to cost around $2 billion.

Ms Saffioti and Labor are taking a broader public transport commitment to the election, featuring the building of the Metronet rail system.

Although the timeframe and cost of the network is not yet clear, Labor’s priorities include a line to Ellenbrook, an extension to Yanchep and the building of a circle line in the inner suburbs.

Ms Saffioti said she had looked at a number of funding options, including the reallocation of federal funding for Roe 8, land sales and spending cuts.

One move could be to introduce value capture, which she said could conservatively recoup around 20 per cent of the cost.

That would mean commercial and residential developments integrated with stations, Ms Saffioti said.

“We’re going to probably focus our attention earlier on the heritage lines, the Armadale and Midland lines,” she said.

 “They’re very low in patronage currently; we want to try and create revitalised stations and also start removing level crossings.”

The Liberals’ public transport plan includes a railway line linking Cockburn to Thornlie, which would cost an estimated $520 million.

Projects under way

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