Planners must protect Port in waterfront rethink

Australia’s port network has been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent months, with ongoing debate about the impact of stevedores increasing costs for operators through the application of new or higher infrastructure surcharges.

Commentary here and elsewhere has addressed how operators should respond to offset the impacts of the increases, with the Victorian Transport Association (VTA) highlighting the need for consumers to ultimately foot the bill for higher costs.

All three Melbourne container stevedores have introduced an infrastructure surcharge, and with stevedores lamenting higher energy and other transaction costs driving the increases, operators should prepare for future escalations. Regrettably, in the current business climate, costs have nowhere to go but up.
The matter has helped frame the importance of our ports in an economic sense. For any state or national economy that is dependent on trade, an accessible and efficient port is essential for getting locally produced goods to markets offshore.

The Port of Melbourne remains Australia’s largest in terms of throughput and container movements, and is presently being impacted by two major infrastructure and other building projects that have the potential to make or break its claim to that mantle.

Arguably the most visible of the two is the $5 billion West Gate Tunnel project, which will change the way heavy vehicles enter and exit the Port of Melbourne. The Victorian Government and project sponsor, Transurban, have done a good job planning for the road and consulting with the industry on the unique requirements of heavy vehicles to get maximum benefit from the new network.

For example, night and multi-user discounts on tolls lobbied for by the VTA will act as a great inducement for heavy vehicle usage of the new connection, as well as offset the impact of restrictions on smaller arterial roads and adjacent communities.

Big trucks should go on big roads where possible, and the planning and forethought that has gone into the West Gate Tunnel will go a long way to creating safer communities and greater productivity for heavy vehicle operators.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the planning behind the other major building project impacting the Port of Melbourne, which is the urban renewal of the Fishermans Bend precinct.

For non-Victorians, Fishermans Bend occupies 480 hectares of land between the south bank of the Yarra River as it curves toward Port Phillip Bay and bayside Port Melbourne, with the West Gate Freeway running straight through the middle. The area is rife with industry thanks to its phenomenal exposure to the waterfront and assets like the Victorian International Container Terminal, Mirrat, Searoad Shipping and Toll Tasmania.

Sensing an opportunity to unlock the enormous appeal of the area for future residents, successive governments have spent millions on planning and rezoning the area for medium- and high-density apartment living. The Fishermans Bend Taskforce has been charged with aligning the planning framework and advising the minister on an area expected to attract 80,000 new residents.

Striking a balance between the needs of heavy vehicle operators servicing the port with the amenity concerns of existing and future communities is supposedly a priority for the Taskforce.

The VTA, however, is concerned that the needs of the Port of Melbourne and operators that service it are being sorely overlooked because of a planning disconnect that is prioritising residential outcomes ahead of commerce and industry.

An example of this is a plan in the Fishermans Bend draft framework for a shared bicycle path on Lorimer Street, a gazetted freight route for heavy vehicles, and the only road high-productivity freight vehicles can use to access the freeway network and destinations beyond because of weight restrictions on the West Gate Bridge.
The VTA explicitly told the department drafting the framework to leave Lorimer Street for heavy vehicles, because a 70-tonne truck sharing limited space with cyclists is a disaster in the making, and we will be lobbying hard for changes to be made.

We will also continue to be a loud and vocal advocate for planning that prioritises the unique needs of port operators, because any detriment caused to the Port of Melbourne will have a flow-on effect through the whole economy, threatening jobs and investment. Through common sense and proper planning, we hope to avoid this one-sided outcome at Fisherman’s Bend.

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