Author: By IAN KIRKWOOD
“WHAT we’re saying is not now, but not never.”
With those words, NSW Roads and Ports Minister Duncan Gay formally consigned the Hunter Valley’s hopes of a steelworks-site container terminal to the planning version of the never-never.
In truth, the writing has been on the wall for some time before now, but in coming to Newcastle to deliver those words, Mr Gay was saying clearly and absolutely that Newcastle had lost its place in the planning queue to Port Kembla as the overflow port for the state’s main container facilities at Port Botany.
Plans for a container terminal on the site were first announced in 1997, two years before BHP stopped steelmaking in Newcastle in 1999.
Under Labor, Newcastle was repeatedly held up as the successor to Botany once it reached capacity, but things have changed direction dramatically under the Coalition.
At the June state budget, the government said it would privatise Botany and Port Kembla, and filled the details in last Friday.
Port Kembla is now formally next in line, but even so, the government-owned Newcastle Port Corporation is still working quietly on plans for a steelworks site cargo terminal to be developed in stages between now and 2036.
Approval for this plan was granted on July 16, by the Minister for Planning, Brad Hazzard.
Documents lodged with the Planning Department reveal a $200 million price tag – presumably to be paid by the private sector – with 35 of the site’s 90 hectares given over to containers.
The port corporation believes a container terminal of between 600,000 and 1 million containers a year is financially viable, but it doesn’t see such an operation happening for another 13 to 25 years.
Mr Gay met yesterday to discuss the Kembla and Newcastle projects with the chief executive of the port corporation, Gary Webb, and its chairman, former BHP executive Paul Jeans.
Mr Gay said the port corporation had pushed hard for the Newcastle container plans.
“Of course they did, you wouldn’t believe these blokes were worth their salt if they didn’t,” Mr Gay said.
“You know the passion they have had on this issue . . . but sometimes you have to make decisions on a statewide basis and this is one of those.”
That’s where things lie, for the moment, but the steelworks site remains arguably the most important deepwater industrial frontage on the NSW coast.
Surely, regardless of what happens in other ports, it is too important to sit all but idle for too much longer.