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Editorial – Future of port site – Newcastle Herald

20 Aug, 2012 08:14 AM

MORE than a decade after BHP stopped steelmaking in Newcastle, the future of the 150hectare site appears as uncertain as ever.

On one hand, Newcastle Port Corporation has spent years working on ‘‘concept plans’’ for a $200million redevelopment of the waterfront side of the site, to be developed over the coming decades to handle a variety of cargoes.

But on the other hand, the Coalition state government has dropped a long-standing – if questionable – Labor promise to make Newcastle the next container port after Port Botany, seemingly removing a major incentive for any private sector port operator to invest the money needed to develop the site.

On the Industrial Highway side of the site, other arms of the government have an agreement with Newcastle company Buildev, but little has been heard about that deal since it was announced in late 2008, and Buildev’s fortunes are now closely tied to that of their major shareholder, Nathan Tinkler.

To add to the question marks, the port corporation is pouring cold water on suggestions by state government MP Tim Owen, who says a Navy presence on the steelworks site is worth exploring.

From any angle, the Mayfield site is one of the most valuable and strategically important slices of waterfront land on the east coast of Australia.

The port corporation is right to plan carefully, and to look towards long-term outcomes, but the Port Botany and Port Kembla decisions have done Newcastle no favours.

The former BHP site is the key to the port’s further diversification, a valuable alternative to the mountains of coal that some in the community are increasingly wary of.

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