Tuesday, 7 August, 2018

HRFC-July-breakfast-panel-Will

Transport infrastructure was the focus of an expert panel discussion facilitated at the recent Economic breakfast by Professor Will Rifkin, Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre Director. The panel covered recent plans and visions, industry needs and pivotal projects, including a container terminal for the Port of Newcastle. Highlights of the discussion follow.

Professor Emeritus Roy Green is the Chairman of the Port of Newcastle. Professor Green has worked in universities, business and government in Australia and overseas.

Q: What are the key projects in the Port of Newcastle’s diversification and growth strategy? What opportunities do they present for Newcastle and the Hunter region?
What challenges/constraints does the Port of Newcastle face in delivering them?

A: There is renewed interest by the Port in developing a container terminal. Plans for a terminal go back to the transition period after the closure of BHP’s steel production. There was a commitment then, by all levels of Government and BHP, to remediate the site and develop a container terminal.

There were various reasons why it did not proceed. The election of a new state government saw the privatisation of the ports, including Botany, Kembla and Newcastle. The negotiation of the sale of each port with NSW Ports resulted in anti-competitive restrictions being placed on the Port of Newcastle. An investigation of the policy is being undertaken by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The Port will be a coal-exporting port for a long time. But beyond 10 years, or 15 years, we are going to have to diversify. The state policy placing a levy on container shipments from Newcastle is the reason that a container terminal has not gone ahead, even though it is viable, competitive and would contribute to greater diversity of the regional economy.

Kyle Loades was Chairman of NRMA until December 2017. He chaired a year-long investigation by the Committee for Sydney that generated the recently released the Sandstone Mega Region Report. That report captures a vision uniting Sydney with Wollongong, the Central Coast and Newcastle. The report recommends the development of a plan for fast connectivity throughout the proposed Sandstone Mega-region.

Q: You have been involved in developing the ‘Sandstone Mega-Region’ report. What motivated the Committee to develop this report?

A: The Committee studied international models of successful ‘mega-regions’, including the Randstad region in the Netherlands. They applied what they learned to their thinking about Wollongong, Sydney and Newcastle.

Every capital city needs to think beyond its boundaries. Achieving one-hour transit times between major centres, normally using fast rail, has proven beneficial worldwide. Having a coherent strategic plan that balances out the strengths and weaknesses of the satellite cities and the capital is also essential.

Inputs to the study demonstrate the benefits to the satellites and to Sydney of planning for the Sandstone Mega-Region. These benefits include economic growth and diversification.

Businesses and industries will move to the Hunter, and we will lose the brain drain of talented people leaving the region, if we get the planning right. People will have a greater choice of where they want to live and work, which will also bring people to the region.

Funding the infrastructure development to put the plan into action should not be an issue. There are many successful examples around the world of models to fund major infrastructure, including the land-capture model that has attracted private investment to partially fund rail development in London.

I encourage you to get behind the plan. It has already been endorsed by (the Honourable) Paul Fletcher (Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities).

Chris Knowles is the Director of Sales and Marketing, Asia Pacific for McLanahan Corporation. He is responsible for the diversification of the business across China and South East Asia.

Q: McLanahan is a global manufacturer of custom-engineered process solutions for handling bulk solids, such as from mining or solid waste streams. Tell us briefly about your manufacturing base and where you do business?

A: McLanahan is a 35-person organisation headquartered at Cameron Park. We specialise in locally-engineered processing equipment, customising solutions for our mining and agricultural customers. We sub-contract components in the Hunter. We also do some manufacturing in Perth and in Shanghai.

Since 2010, we have been able to export to Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and China. Scale and cost are important to maintain competitiveness. Economies of scale and certainty of supply require efficient export arrangements. At the moment, we are shipping and air freighting out of Sydney. In order to continue to compete from the Hunter, we need improved infrastructure.

Matt Coetzee is the Global Client Director for Cities at Aurecon, and he is a career planner. He has managed major infrastructure projects in the Hunter and Western Sydney.

Q: Sydney has its Greater Sydney Region Plan and Newcastle its Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan. Are these long-term plans just “wish lists”, or can they provide useful road maps for development? What shared learning or insights can be gleaned from the two plans?

A: The plans are really important, especially for smaller firms, to provide clarity on where to invest. However, large-scale, urban strategic planning solutions should not be developed in isolation. The Sandstone Mega Region report is a good example of a plan that considers the interaction between Sydney and its surrounding regions.

Planners need to understand that there is movement of both people and dollars between cities and their regions.

We should get away from thinking that Sydney is just the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. There are other parts of Sydney, particularly Western Sydney, that are growing rapidly. Think about what opportunities are opened up by improved connectivity between Newcastle and Parramatta or the new airport in the West.

Infrastructure can play a driving role in economic development. The Sandstone Mega Region report offers some insight into that. However, you need to be clear about who and what you are connecting to. You can view Sydney as a monster that is consuming your best and brightest. Or you can see opportunities to connect with other parts of Sydney that are developing in similar ways to Newcastle.

The HRF Centre facilitated a roundtable discussion with the panelists and other key stakeholders, immediately following the breakfast. That event was Chatham House rules: so, sorry, no summary available. 

The Centre will continue to facilitate discussions and monitor and report on developments relevant to the region's critical transport infrastructure.

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