$12bn Hastings port plan ‘a disaster’

THE Napthine government’s plan to spend up to $12 billion developing the Port of Hastings would be a “financial disaster” for the freight industry, one of the nation’s leading logistics experts has warned.
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Former Toll boss Paul Little, who resigned from the company in late 2011 but remains the largest private shareholder and a consultant, has thrown his weight behind a proposal for another port development on the other side of the bay near Geelong.

Full steam ahead: Denis Napthine (second from right) announces ports funding in Hastings last month. Picture: Gary Sissons

Mr Little, who according to Forbes is the nation’s 37th-richest person with an estimated net worth of $780 million, said the proposal to develop Hastings was deeply flawed.

Mr Little, who spent 25 years as chief executive of Toll Holdings and is expected to return this year as a non-executive director, said the Hastings option would “not deliver the best outcome for Victoria”.

“Trying to relocate port-based logistics services close to Hastings would be a financial disaster for the logistics industry, if [it was] unable to pass on higher operating costs,” he said.

Yesterday’s state budget included $110 million to begin the planning and design work for the massive project, which would not be completed until at least 2030.

The project has also been privately criticised by business figures concerned about the lack of a standard-gauge rail link in the area and the fact that most of Melbourne’s freight and logistics, including that of Toll, is already based in the west. But until now public criticism has been relatively muted.

“The high cost of building a standard-gauge rail link to Hasting and the construction of suitable freeway access would be excessive and difficult, if not impossible, to justify,” Mr Little said.

“It is also reasonable to assume eastern-suburbs road traffic congestion would very quickly become a major problem for all commuters.”

Last year, Fairfax Media revealed a Department of Transport briefing had found the ‘Bay West’ option offered “significant potential advantages”, including ample land, “almost unlimited potential berth capacity” and proximity to Avalon Airport.

But Premier Denis Napthine has dismissed the idea as “nonsense”, arguing it would require a massive amount of preparatory dredging and even then would be unlikely to be able to accommodate the large container ships of the future.

Despite the government all but ruling out the Bay West option, Fairfax Media can reveal it has continued to quietly assess the option.

In response to a freedom-of-information request by the state opposition, the Department of Transport acknowledged it had undertaken a study comparing the cost of the two proposals, and a site-selection study for the area near Werribee.

However, it refused to release the documents, claiming they would generate “unnecessary speculation”.

—Josh Gordon/The Age

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