Container port bound for Botany – Newcastle Herald

By IAN KIRKWOOD

Dec. 6, 2011, 11:38 a.m.

THE state government is looking to ditch a long-standing promise to make Newcastle the next container port after Botany.

Changing Labor’s ‘‘three ports strategy’’ would make it easier for Nathan Tinkler to achieve his plans for a coal-loader on part of the former BHP site.

A state government submission lodged last month with federal agency Infrastructure Australia shows the government intends allowing as many as 7million containers a year through Botany, or more than three times the 2.02million containers shipped last year.

Botany’s existing approval is for 3.2million containers a year and 7million a year would kill Newcastle’s chances of building a successful terminal, despite its natural advantages and Botany’s already critical congestion.

But the news is not all bad for Newcastle, with the state and federal governments looking at new rail freight lines north from Sydney.

In an apparent reference to the long-awaited Fassifern-Hexham freight link, the submission says ‘‘the precise scope is still subject to agreement but may include … dedicated freight access between Sydney and Newcastle’’.

The Fassifern-Hexham link would remove most of the traffic delays at Adamstown gates.

The submission – titled ‘‘Port Botany and Sydney transport improvement program’’ and dated November 2011 – has generated little if any fanfare until now.

But a former key BHP figure in Newcastle, Greg Cameron, says it shows successive state governments have treated the region very badly.

Now living in Canberra, Mr Cameron was a key figure in creating the Steel River industrial park before the 1999 steelworks closure.

Mr Cameron said the rail link now promoted by Hunter Ports was part of BHP’s plans in the late-1990s, but the government didn’t want it.

‘‘The business case for the multi-purpose terminal was always dependent on that rail link to Hexham,’’ Mr Cameron said

‘‘BHP selected that land a century ago as the best port site in Australia and it has the potential to serve the nation for another 100years, provided it is used in the best interests of the community.’’

A spokesman for Ports Minister Duncan Gay said the government was reviewing Labor’s 2003 ‘‘three ports’’ strategy along with plans to expand Botany.