Fremantle’s limitations force port push

26/11/2008 - 22:00


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THE Western Australian government is being urged to make up its mind on its plans for the future of Fremantle's inner harbour.

THE Western Australian government is being urged to make up its mind on its plans for the future of Fremantle's inner harbour.

A ports conference held at Murdoch University last week heard that firm decisions are needed on proposed changes to the inner harbour and a clear timetable should be established to indicate if and when such changes will occur.

Acting dean of the Murdoch University Business School, Malcolm Tull, said the debate about phasing cargo activities out of the inner harbour created uncertainty for port users and those who invested in port facilities.

His comments come amid the ongoing dispute involving competing proposals by Fremantle Ports and the private James Point consortium, backed by BGC boss Len Buckeridge, for the development of new port facilities at Kwinana.

Transport Minister Simon O'Brien, while still in opposition earlier this year, stirred the debate over the future of the existing inner harbour when he released a document, Vision for the Port of Fremantle.

Associate Professor Tull said some proposals in this document, such as relocating livestock operations and developing new bulk cargo handling facilities at Kwinana, would be relatively easy to implement.

However, relocating container operations - which would inevitably occur as trade growth surpassed the existing port's capacity and competing demand for land around North Quay increased - would require long-term planning and an agreed timetable.

"This is not something that can be done overnight," Associate Professor Tull told WA Business News.

"Government really needs to make up its mind on this issue and provide a clear timetable if it intends to phase container operations out of the inner harbour.

"A timetable, possibly one with a 20- to 30-year horizon is needed so that all port stakeholders, particularly those who are required to make ongoing investments at Fremantle, have some certainty."

Before he became transport minister, Mr O'Brien said a decision to relocate container operations should be made while land use options were still available.

His Vision for the Port of Fremantle report said although stevedoring companies believed North Quay could accommodate container growth until 2035, an estimated capacity of 1.2 million 20-foot equivalent units per annum would be reached by 2015.

It said while there was some spare berthing capacity, the limitations of the current operations area were becoming increasingly obvious.

The report added that land-side transport at Fremantle was grossly inefficient, with heavy vehicles waiting in long obstructing queues snaking through the locality's roads.

In a statement issued to WA Business News, Mr O'Brien said a stakeholder consultation process would begin soon to make recommendations to government on the long-term future of Fremantle.

"The intention is to create a plan which will provide for the growing needs of the port for the rest of the 21st century," he said.

Associate Professor Tull said there was a need for an overall port development plan for the whole of Western Australia - including north-west ports - to ensure any deficiencies in the supply chain were identified.

Planning and Transport Research Centre executive director Greg Martin said ports, which were vital to the state's prosperity, were generally taken for granted.

He said governments had a responsibility to help ports stay viable by engaging in extensive planning and community consultation to ensure provision was made for buffer zones, transport access routes and new port projects.

"There is no excuse not to be engaging in long-term planning," Mr Martin said. "It remains important in a post boom environment to engage in planning and strategic investment


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