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By Darren Goodsir, Urban Affairs Editor
February 18, 2005
The state’s top planners have cast adrift an ambitious plan to massively expand cargo facilities at the Port Botany container terminal – arguing its size should be reduced by 25 per cent to avoid traffic gridlock.
The Sydney Ports Corporation is arguing at a commission of inquiry for a 63-hectare boost to the existing terminal, which it claims would allow 3.2 million container movements a year by 2025.
This would increase the size of the stretched cargo area by nearly 30 per cent – with a potential impact on air-traffic control radars.
But the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources has been spooked by predictions by the stevedores Patrick Corp and P&O that the expansion could lead to 8 million container movements a year. In a reversal, the department said yesterday it would only support a 47-hectare expansion, and that it should be built in stages.
In a last-minute submission to the commission of inquiry, the department said the foreshore area should also be reduced by 70 metres – widening the mouth of the nearby Penrhyn Estuary and improving tidal flows.
It said a smaller terminal expansion would still allow a third player to enter the freight market, and also allow planners enough time to gauge the impact of increased traffic.
Under the department’s plans, a proposed fifth berth would be put on hold, and only approved after another detailed environmental analysis. The submission, presented to Commissioner Kevin Cleland, argues that “any increase in container throughput over and above 3.2 million … must therefore be the subject of a further environmental assessment”. This was “to ensure that such throughput can be accommodated on the surrounding road and rail networks and beyond”.
Last year the Herald revealed leaked cabinet papers showing that, even if incentives were provided to increase rail freight, semitrailer movements would leap by 300 per cent by 2021, clogging all road arteries near Sydney airport.
In response, the Planning Minister, Craig Knowles, raised the prospect of a levy of up to $30 per container being placed on freight vehicle movements to encourage more rail freight. He set a target of doubling to 40 per cent the proportion of cargo carried by train within six years. Mr Knowles also created a new body, chaired by the former Labor politician Laurie Brereton, to look at ways to accommodate the increased traffic.
First opened in 1976, Port Botany currently has 1.2 million container movements a year, with movements rising by about 7 per cent a year.
In earlier evidence yesterday, Patrick’s managing director, Chris Corrigan, rubbished the Carr Government’s embryonic freight strategy. He said plans to establish a rail-truck interchange at Enfield, only 18 kilometres from the port, were questionable. It made more sense to create a facility further away, on the city’s outskirts, to improve costs and efficiencies.
Mr Corrigan has been frustrated in his attempts to build a large transfer station on Sydney’s south-western fringes, at Ingleburn, which is in Mr Knowles’s electorate. After a series of bitterly contested court battles, the matter has again gone to the Land and Environment Court for a decision.
However, Mr Corrigan said yesterday he supported the planned construction of a freight-only rail line from the port, saying it would be enough to tilt the balance more favourably to rail freight.