No more from port lease – Newcastle Herald

By MICHELLE HARRIS State Political Reporter

June 20, 2013, 11 p.m.

NEWCASTLE will be unlikely to benefit from further spending if the state government receives more than the $700 million it expects for the lease of its port, with Treasurer Mike Baird saying other communities also need infrastructure.

Legislative amendments enabling the 99-year lease of the Port of Newcastle are now before State Parliament’s upper house, after the government rushed the measures through the lower house within two days of announcing the proposal in Tuesday’s state budget.

It is expected to pass with the support of the cross bench ahead of Parliament’s winter break.

Mr Baird defended the government’s haste yesterday, saying groups of investors “from around the world” were interested in such assets now.

“This is too good an opportunity for the city of Newcastle,” he said.

“This is too good an opportunity for the people of the state, so we are undertaking all the actions we need to get on with the transaction.

The government has committed $460 million, including $340 million from the proceeds, to building light rail from Wickham to Newcastle.

It says it expects to raise $700 million from the lease, but got more than it anticipated for the recent lease of Ports Botany and Kembla, which raised about $4 billion in net proceeds.

Mr Baird said any proceeds beyond that anticipated for Newcastle would go into the Restart NSW fund for infrastructure investment “in other communities as well”.

Labor has warned the government will expand, as it did with Port Botany, the kind of development around the port exempt from the need to gain development consent.

For Botany, infrastructure such as railway tracks and cranes were deemed “complying development” that, along with maintenance dredging, does not need consent.

Changes to its state environmental planning policy also lifted the threshold to $100 million before development was considered “state significant”, requiring government approval.

Mr Baird said a scoping study of the lease of Newcastle would determine if changes were needed.