If Australia has lived off the sheep’s back then Newcastle, in particular its port, has thrived courtesy of the region’s rich coal reserves for more than 200 years.
Black gold is likely to remain the port’s economic lifeline for some time, but there are several key social and economic indicators that suggest change is on the horizon.
Aside from the well documented issues the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recently identified regarding the Port of Newcastle, the bottom line is that the port needs to diversify if it is to remain economically viable into the next century.
The evolution of a container terminal is a logical way forward.
As with most modern industrial developments, the social and environmental impacts the project need to be given the same weight as its economic viability.
In other words, the days when communities were expected to tolerate, or even be grateful for, the health risks created by industry are over.
In the case of a future container terminal, the impact that its operations have on existing road and rail infrastructure needs careful consideration.
Concerns about the impact of thousands of extra trucks on Industrial Drive or even worse on suburban streets have understandable been raised from the first time a container terminal was proposed for the former BHP site.
With planning approval allowing more than a million port-related truck movements a year, little has occurred in the past decade to suggest the community’s fears were unfounded.
The Port of Newcastle’s new commitment to increase the amount of freight arriving and leaving a future container terminal on rail from 20 per cent to 50 per cent is welcome news.
The initial phase of a Newcastle container terminal would have a 350,000 annual container turnover. With approximately half of that travelling by rail, the impact that the remainder would have on the road network would be significant.
While a scenario where all container movements would be truck free is impractical, effort needs to be made to maximise the amount that travels by rail.
To this end, governments and industry need to work together to develop appropriate transport infrastructure to ensure that a future container terminal is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.
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