THE future development of the Port of Hastings received a major boost last week after it was declared under the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act by Minister for Ports David Hodgett.
The move paves the way for the planning approvals process to begin – a step MP for Hastings Neil Burgess describes as a major milestone.
But, despite the port’s expansion “representing a transformational change that will provide a major boost to the social and economic wellbeing of Hastings, the Peninsula and surrounding communities while also ensuring Victoria’s rightful position as Australia’s leading container port”, there’s plenty of local opposition.
The Greens do not support establishment of a container port at Hastings, with MLC Sue Pennicuik saying the state government is “trying to avoid environmental protection laws in pushing through its proposal”.
She describes the facilitation act as “a way for governments to avoid proper scrutiny of the environmental and social impacts of their favourite transport projects”. And the French Island Port Stoppers say an informal poll of island residents and landholders in May attracted 58 responses with the “overwhelming majority” – 88 per cent – saying they are against the port’s expansion with 5 per cent for it and 7 per cent undecided.
Meanwhile, Bass Coast Council is funding a study into the environmental impact of the port expansion late next month. It will develop a “range of scenarios that give proper weight to environmental values as well as their contribution to the economy of the area”.
That action is being supported by the Preserve Western Port Action Group, which says “the community is extremely concerned at the impact the proposed development will have on the environment and ecology of Western Port”. Its members are “delighted that the council is funding the project and supporting the community”.
Mr Hodgett said investment in the Port’s expansion would “translate into the creation of thousands of on-going Victorian jobs for decades, while retaining our position as the nation’s freight and logistics capital”.
He said: “Without investing to meet future demand, Victoria will reach container capacity by the mid-2020s, even with the benefit of current expansion projects at the Port of Melbourne.
“This is why the Port of Hastings expansion is so critical to preserving our export and manufacturing industries and supporting the future liveability and economic growth of the state.”
Mr Burgess said the project’s declaration provided certainty on the assessment-and-approval process. He said it would “ensure a full and independent evaluation of the project, taking into account the needs and feedback of the community”.
Port of Hastings Development Authority CEO Mike Lean said the next three to four years would involve port planning, conceptual design and “a comprehensive study of the social, economic and environmental effects associated with developing the state’s next container port”.
He said the authority was “acutely aware of the unique and significant environmental aspects of Western Port, ranging from the internationally-recognised Ramsar wetlands through to the Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere Reserve.
“Understanding the existing conditions in the Western Port marine environment is the first step in this process.”
He said “open conversations would be had with local communities and other stakeholders to ensure that every point of view is heard in this systematic and comprehensive assessment process”.
But Ms Pennicuik said there has been no public business case to justify construction of a new port, versus the option of greater efficiency in existing facilities at the Port of Melbourne.
“We should instead improve efficiency in the way freight is being handled through ports and in the wider transport system,” she said.
Preserve Western Port Action Group chairman Jeff Nottle said transforming Hastings into an international container port would require massive dredging and increase the volume of shipping dramatically.
“It is the most significant issue facing the Phillip Island and Western Port communities. The expansion has the potential to wreck the environment and amenity of Western Port and with it the tourism industry.”
He said the Bass Shire study by two Australian National University researchers “should have been carried out before the Government announced its decision to expand the Port.
“We really do expect better governance from a Government that professes to support tourism.”
The study will be done on Phillip Island over a one week period and will involve local interest groups, councillors, CEOs, Victorian National Parks Association, Western Port & Peninsula Protection Council, industry and environmental specialists. Students participating are studying Environment Management and Development: Scenario Planning and Analysis for Australia.
The 20-member French Island Port Stoppers meet regularly to determine what they can do to stop the port’s expansion. They have set up a Facebook page and are connecting with other groups around Western Port. They have a twitter account: @fiportstoppers, and an email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Members are planning a public meeting at the French Island community hall and printing a brochure about the impact of the expansion on French Island: its environment, residents and landholders and amenities.
They will join other groups to prepare and distribute information about the development’s environmental and lifestyle impacts, and its economic impact on people living on Western Port and the Mornington Peninsula.