Author: By IAN KIRKWOOD Industrial Reporter
NEWCASTLE Port Corporation is confident of developing the former BHP steelworks site despite the state government opting for Port Kembla as the nextcontainer terminal after Port Botany.
But a former member of a consortium that agreed with the former Labor government to develop the Newcastle site said the Port Kembla decision was the latest blow in a “frustrating” process.
Nearly 13 years have passed since the steelworks shut, and the government approved a masterplan for the waterfront 90 hectares of the 150-hectare site in July.
This new master plan envisages a $200 million multigoods terminal developed over the coming 25 to 40 years and breaks the Hunter River frontage into five precincts.
Three hectares are set aside for a new port corporation operations centre, 12 hectares for bulk cargoes, 25 hectares for a general purpose precinct based around the recently built Mayfield 4 berth, 15 hectares for bulk liquid storage at the western or OneSteel end of the site and 35 hectares for containers.
The Industrial Drive side of the site is the subject of separate negotiations between other government agencies and Buildev, which was announced in 2008 as the “preferred developer” of a 60-hectare “Intertrade Park”.
After investing in Buildev, businessman Nathan Tinkler proposed replacing the industrial development with a coal-loader, but this was rejected and the state of the Buildev plan remains unclear.
Newcastle Port Corporation chief executive Gary Webb said this week Ports Minister Duncan Gay had explained the government’s decision to privatise Port Botany and Port Kembla, and the impact this would have on thecontainer component of the Newcastle plan.
The concept plan predicted 600,00 containers a year by 2024 and 1 million a year by 2034, but these targets would not be met and the corporation would look for other, short-term uses for the container land.
Mr Webb hosed down speculation the navy might want the steelworks site, although state Newcastle MP Tim Owen still believes the idea should be explored.
He said the next step for the corporation was to resolve the future of a “proposed contract” to develop 72 hectares of the site that was agreed in principle by the corporation with a consortium involving Hunter waterfront company Newcastle Stevedores.
Mr Webb said the corporation was looking at whether the proposed contract needed to be renegotiated in light of the government’s policy change, but he was hoping the consortium was still interested in the site.
Newcastle Stevedores managing director Geoff Beesley said yesterday membership of the consortium had changed over time, and he was no longer directly involved.
But he said containers had always been at the heart of the interest that international port companies had shown in funding the development, and the project would struggle without a substantial container component.
“As I understand it, the government is saying you can have containers on the site as long as they are unloaded using ships’ cranes or [rotating] slew cranes, rather than the ‘portainer’ or gantry cranes that are the basis of full-scale container terminals,” Mr Beesley said.
He said “millions of dollars” had been spent by private companies and government agencies in various versions of the container terminal first proposed for the site by BHP in 1997, two years before it shut.
“It’s been a frustrating process,” Mr Beesley said.