Long wait until ships come in – if ever

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THE first report by Infrastructure Victoria into the best site for Victoria’s second container port is scheduled to go to the state government in May 2017.

The two options being investigated are Hastings in Western Port and Bay West in Port Phillip, but Infrastructure Victoria has cautioned that “evidence we gather may not be conclusive enough to identify a preferred location”.

“We won’t reduce government’s strategic flexibility by making a premature recommendation now, particularly because it would be based on evidence that is likely to change.

“The final decision to invest in a second container port is still likely to be a number of years away, so deciding on its location is not necessary until this time.”

The government agency has stated that it sees expanding existing ports or building new ones “a last option”.

It says the smarter approach is to make better use of existing assets, including port road and rail links, and to manage demand, such as spreading truck movements more evenly throughout the day and night.

Infrastructure Victoria has also warned that both Hastings and Bay West require “significant dredging, reclamation of land (creating new land using dredge material), and construction of land transport connections”.

Environment impacts of developing either site will not be made in time for next year’s report as “both sites are located in or adjacent to environmentally-sensitive areas”.

Details of Infrastructure Victoria’s investigation into Victoria’s future port needs were released last week in the discussion paper “Preparing advice on Victoria’s future ports capacity”.

The report says the annual rate of increased container traffic being handled at Melbourne has levelled out over the past few years and now sits at less than three million a year.

It says the port’s limit is eight to seven million containers a year (Victorian Ports Strategic Framework, 2004), although in 2010 the government believed a second container port was needed by the late 2020s, with Hastings seen as the preferred location.

Times and governments have changed and the current Labor government swung away from Hasting to favour Bay West.

Notwithstanding which site is best, Infrastructure Victoria says it would take up to 15 years for a port to be up and running and that, if built, it should be done in stages to avoid overspending.

Its costings for Bay West and Hastings will be based on a new port able to handle three million containers at first and have the capability of being expanded for up to six or 10 million containers.

However, Infrastructure Victoria’s report keeps referring back to the reason for its investigation as being if and when a new container port is needed.

The report also mentions redistributing the types of cargoes handled at the existing ports of Hastings, Geelong and Portland.

“The most important thing to acknowledge about planning for future commercial port capacity is the high degree of uncertainty about future conditions,” the report states.

“Our main focus is on the need for, and timing of, a second container port, and where it might be located. In preparing our advice we will also consider the possible relocation of other trades between Victoria’s ports (for example, motor vehicles, chemicals, grain, break bulk cargo and fuel) or terminals for cruise ships, and what factors may drive any relocation.

“Reducing uncertainty while preserving flexibility is the key driver in our analysis of the timing for investment in new ports capacity. In the short to medium term, allowing the Port of Melbourne to grow to its largest feasible capacity is the most cost-effective way of meeting increased Victorian container throughput.

“Maximising existing ports’ capacity ensures a second port is built only when it is needed.”

“The scope set out by government is clear. We need to provide advice on when to invest in extra container port capacity, and where – at either a Hastings or Bay West location,” Infrastructure Victoria’s CEO Michel Masson said when releasing the discussion paper.

“We will consider a range of aspects in preparing our advice, including the environmental, economic and social impacts of developing a new port.

“In some areas, we are not starting from scratch. We will consider any existing work provided to us on the previous assessments of these sites, and undertake technical investigations where there are gaps in our knowledge.”

The discussion paper is available at yoursay.infrastructurevictoria.com.au

First published in the Mornington News – 6 September 2016

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