Some thoughts on the sale of Freo Port

It’d be fair to say that the recently announced sale of Fremantle Port took everyone by surprise.  The Fremantle Council is still trying to digest its implications but it does raise some serious concerns for me.

One – This is the worst possible time to privatize the port. The very future and location of the inner-harbour is under serious debate. Key questions such as how many containers should go through the inner- harbour and when key parts of the port should be moved are very live debates.

Two – A 49 year lease/sale would seem to indicate there is a desire to push the Fremantle Port to it absolute maximum container capacity – otherwise it will sell for less. At the moment around 700,000 containers arrive at the port a year. This figure is growing rapidly and is expected to double to 1.4 million over coming years. Stirling Hwy, High St and Leech Hwy are already overburdened with freight truck traffic and doubling trucks will simply not work. My concern is that the sale of the Port to a profit-focused, private operator locks in a road based freight freeway around Fremantle in the years ahead at the expense of an investment in rail infrastructure with potentially terrible outcomes for Fremantle  residents and businesses. As Cr Sullivan correctly said “The freeway style toll road will make access in and out of our city centre hopelessly constrained especially from the north and east.”

I don’t want to be all doom and gloom about it. There may also be benefits. One potential upside is that planning control on Victoria Quay will revert back to City of Fremantle. At the moment they sit with Fremantle Ports and the State Government. Despite Fremantle Ports good improvement in working with the Fremantle Council in recent years it would still be a better outcome if the non-operational areas of the port fell under the City of Fremantle’s planning jurisdiction.

Now the surprise has slightly faded and with the benefit of hindsight you can now see how the State and Federal Governments were planning for sale for some time. Using the $1.6 billion in funding for the Roe 8 and the freight link to boost the port’s value and somewhat oddly use that to reduce state debt

I say oddly because to get the freight link all the way to the Fremantle Port will ultimately cost over $2 billion of government money to build yet the estimated value of the Fremantle Port on a 49 year lease is less than $1.5 billion. It won’t even cover the costs of the road. The whole deal only makes sense because the Feds are putting  in $925 million for the freight freeway. But looking at this proposal as a whole, it simply doesn’t make a convincing case for good use of public funds given these are all ultimately taxpayer dollars. And more importantly this sale to push down state debt may have terrible consequences for the liveability and economy of Fremantle.

In other words this is potentially one of the most impactful decisions on Fremantle’s future we have seen in decades. And it has come out of the blue. I strongly support a working port in Fremantle – but not at any cost.

It is so important I believe it and the freight freeway should be taken to the next election so the voters can understand them and judge their merits before we rush into something that may seriously damage the Fremantle we love.

july 007

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

15 Responses to Some thoughts on the sale of Freo Port

  1. Diana Ryan says:

    Wouldn’t there be issues either way, though, Brad?

    In the choice of whether to build the Freight Link or act to transfer 30% freight on to rail from Freo, wasn’t it always meant to be about creating the most efficient means of transporting the ever increasing, and huge, freight requirements?

    In that respect, financially, it would cost a lot of money either way (road or rail), and I presume the govt felt they had to act and for some reason it turns out to be road rather than rail.

    I’m not sure you can draw a conspiracy theory at that point that this sale was foreshadowed for a long time, thereof.

    So I know they are putting in the road, but wouldn’t it also have been a waste of money if they’d put in new rail infrastructure instead, given the port will reach capacity in the near future?

    (I used the term ‘conspiracy theory’ here because it was the quickest way to ask if this really was “planned” a long time ago, and in light of quite brutally efficient Fed reports I have seen over the years, that place the critical freight task before everything else, ie, there is a stretch of Leach Hwy that goes through Bentley that has houses on either side with driveways that feed directly on/off the Hwy itself. Alannah MacTiernan removed the right of trucks over 27 feet long to use this section of the Hwy, because of the impact it had on that area, but the Feds had that tiny tract of Leach under their microscope for a long time, ie, literally, having mum’n’dads slowing down so as to exit Leach on to their driveway, was holding up the freight corridor, ie, many times a day, slows down everything, wear and tear on trucks. Its amazing to think the Feds were minutely examing a tiny stretch of Leach and highlighting what a prob the mum’n’dad driveways were, for what is less than one kilometre. So they planned….something…. to happen to those mums’n’dads, which would eventually be quite disruptive, seem unfair, houses may be forced to be sold, etc. But it wouldn’t be a conspiracy theory, just how seriously these people take seconds of time, wear and tear on trucks, etc, in to account in the great freight debate).

    If the Govt has decided to beef up rail instead, it would still have been – in bean counter terms – a “subsidy” from “public monies” to the port that will now move to private ownership, although I know it would have been preferable for your community.

    • While it still would have been a subsidy it would have at least been a good one that reduced the impacts of freight on the community and didn’t create a potentially damaging freeway bypass around Fremantle while reducing access to Freo itself. Public subsidies that have good public outcomes are supportable. Public subsidies that also have terrible public outcomes need to be seriously challenged.

      • Lionel says:

        Rail creates far more segregation than roadways. Trains also make far more noise for people to complain about. You haven’t really though about the impact of rail as much as you have of a slightly wider version of the current road.

      • Hard to imagine something much more segregating that an grade separated, controlled access toll freeeway through Fremantle and North Fremantle.

      • Lionel says:

        It will only be a toll road for trucks – its just another road for cars. Have you tried to cross a railroad anywhere but at a level crossing?

      • True but freeways don’t even have level crossings only expensive overpasses

      • Lionel says:

        I think rail crossings generally cost more than overpasses (might be wrong). They certainly require far more maintenance and are more dangerous. They absolutely cause traffic issues (See Victoria Street)

  2. Kim says:

    As someone who lives in Albany it is amazing (in a bad way), how our huge state concentrates the “bulk” of its freight movements from overseas through Fremantle Port.
    Congestion is one of the biggest limitations to the unbridled expansion of cities world wide and the creation of other port alternatives would surely be the most sensible solution.
    Apart from this, it is hard to understand why such huge resources are being directed towards road, instead of rail to move the huge volumes of freight. Road has physical limitations which are clearly being reached at the expense of the Fremantle community.
    In the end, as usual it is the taxpayers who foot the the bill for our “governments” failure to protect the interest of the wider community.

  3. Diana Ryan says:

    Then you know what you now need to put money towards, as a council, Brad: the good subsidy, even if it isn’t rail but a better outcome all round on what you know is coming.

    Throughout all of this I’ve never seen you offer to contribute towards the cost of a rail (if things were to go that way, or be induced that way), any rail, or any other innovation that might come in to effect, if you put the idea, and the incentive, in to the ring and bucks that came from your “mega trip generator” pockets.

    No point in hiding behind the Abbott Govt. That’s a defeatist attitude, and I didn’t notice you willing to put any money towards the infrastructure of any rail before Abbott as it was.

    Gold Coast councils did it for the light rail – stumped up the cash in advance, put it in to escrow.

    We expected trip generators and benefiters along the Knowledge Arc Light Rail to.

    Why don’t you stop acting like a hard done by council in all of this and look at what you can put up as an incentive, during this period of submissions on what the consortiums could do re the freight link, and put your money where your demands are?

    You CAN help influence a better outcome, Brad. But you have to wade in and make the hard decisions because from what Dean Nalder said in last week’s press release, the contracts on that baby will go out in Sept and December and then you are stuck with it.

    And the 2017 election, one and a half year’s later, won’t help you then.

    And if all you are going to do is a “rebuff” to this comment, then we know your firms views aren’t – they’re Clayton.

    • An original argument Diana but not one I agree with. The idea a local government would put $100,000 if not millions towards a state government problem that can be solved with better planning and infrastructure investment choices would not only set a terrible precedent but isn’t one i could not argue for with a straight face in front of government or Freo ratepayers.
      cheers, Brad

      • Diana Ryan says:

        Yeah, I think others are starting to realise you are going to sit on your hands until the building works begin, Brad. Good luck securing a third term.

      • That is going to make typing hard!
        But seriously Diana the silly personal attacks aren’t adding much value to the debate. But that said, I’ll let my and the Council’s actions and work around this speak for themselves. We can’t control the outcome but in my meeting with Nalder, the independent research we are getting done, and advocacy strategy; we will do everything we can to influence it.

      • Diana Ryan says:

        Bypassing your “politician’s defence” of “silly personal attacks”, of course other council’s have contributed to state and federal projects to get a better outcome.

        Just not you.

        Who is your independent researcher anyway? And in the time of post-Bjorn Lomborg bashing, will that research be peer-reviewed?

        I can’t recall any time Peter Newman and CUSP’s work has been.

        As for your advocacy strategy…. you are relying on Labor. So are they going to literally put a stop to all the work that will begin, in Sept and Dec – one and a half year’s work – if they win the next state election?

        Over to another “politician’s defence” buck passing from you, Brad.

      • More a defense of good rational ideas-focused debate.
        Can you give me an example of another council that has financially contributed to improving freight transport outcomes please? It would help us formulate our approach.

  4. jpquinton says:

    Wow that degenerated quickly, well done Diana.

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