Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Is the NSW Dept. of Industry seeking to significantly expand the Port of Yamba?

This is the poster being distributed on behalf of the Berejiklian Government by the NSW Dept. of Industry – Lands, which is responsible for managing Crown lands in New South Wales.

The Department privately sought comment from other government agencies and industry sometime around September-October 2016, before it came north with a set agenda to conduct a brief workshop which it attempted to limit to a handful of local Clarence Valley commercial “stakeholders” in December 2016.

This is what was supposedly taken away from those private discussions and that workshop:

Yamba is a priority location under the NSW Freight and Ports Strategy, with the NSW Government’s desire to support efficiency, connectivity and growth of the freight transport network.

The Clarence River Way Master Plan developed by the Clarence Valley Council identifies the Council’s desire to promote Yamba as the gateway port to the Clarence.

To achieve this, the Masterplan outlines twelve actions that include the promotion and development of port facilities, maintaining the port as a deepwater anchorage and working port, developing the port for the mini cruise market, expanding the shipbuilding and repair facilities, and the inclusion of mixed use commercial and retail opportunities.

The NSW Government has recently funded and/or identified a number of priority projects including the pontoon at Ford Park, River Street, Yamba Bay boat ramp carpark improvements, the Hickey Island boat ramp carpark upgrade, access improvements for the Clarence River Canoe and Kayak Trail, location for sewage pump-out in the upper Clarence River and Yamba boating access improvements.

The Department of Industry - Lands are currently conducting works on the Clarence River southern breakwater, with works on the catwalks and revetment wall, as well as the Yamba access ways having been completed earlier in 2016.

Iluka is located on the NSW north coast along the Clarence River and is bounded by Queen Street and lluka Bay.

The Clarence River Way Master Plan developed by the Clarence Valley Council identifies Iluka as a river town that is a key tourism and service hub for the Clarence River with an upgrade to the public domain and setting the existing marina, and investigating opportunities for marina development deemed as important.

The NSW Government has recently funded and/or identified a number of priority projects, including the Crown Street Boat Ramp Jetty and the upgrade of the Spencer Street jetty.

Under the Coastal Infrastructure Program, the Department of Industry - Lands repaired the Clarence River Northern Breakwater. Additionally, there are works proposed for the finger jetties and refuelling jetty maintenance. [my highlighting]

Now it is asking for input from the community – presumably to gain some comment it can present as evidence that its entire agenda is supported locally.

This agenda misrepresents the Port of Yamba as "a priority location under the NSW Freight and Ports Strategy". It was only one of six ports and twenty-three coastal harbours included in that 236 page report published in 2013 and only rated a relatively brief mention.

It also misrepresents the 2009 Clarence River Way Master Plan which is heavily focussed on tourism expansion. The plan only allowing for limited expansion of existing industry.

Apart from a two sentence commitment to keep Yamba a "working port" with deepwater achorage it makes no mention of freight activity in any one of its 35 pages.

The former Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight certainly didn't view the port as urgently requiring a new strategic approach, however the new minister in this portfolio Nationals MP for Oxley Melinda Pavey may have a different perspective.

While eight of the nine current Clarence Valley councillors went to the the 2016 local government election stating that they were not in favour of a heavily industrialised mega port and so might in 2017 be reluctant to fully support the Department's future plans for the working port once these are revealed.

I suspect that Yamba has only come to the forefront after Liberal and Nationals politicians and public service mandarins in Farrer Place & Dangar began to look for regions outside of Sydney where an excuse might be created to convert Crown land into private title.

The current Dept. of Industry-Lands agenda includes what appears suspiciously like a fairly softly, softly approach to gain tacit community agreement for future industrialisation of the Clarence River estuary, including the sell-off, lease or transfer of vacant Crown lands for commercial development.

Additionally, the expansion of Goodwood Island port facilities - which was specifically excluded from the Department's workshop discussion - is apparently now on the table because the online survey canvasses opinion on port freight levels. 

This marches in step with the vested interests of a number of professional consultants, financial advisers, investment fund managers, property conveyancing law firms and property developers whose as representatives made appearances at the NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into Crown Land, with one Sydney-based group including a Yamba super port proposal in their wish list.

It is perhaps no accident that this current online consultation finishes early next month - the same month the Berejiklian Government is due to deliver its response to the parliamentary Crown lands inquiry report.

I note that on 8 September 2016 the Audit Office of New South Wales had this to say about the Dept. of Industry-Lands:

Decisions on sale and lease of Crown land are not transparent to the public and the Department has not provided consistent opportunities for the public and interested parties to participate in decisions about Crown land. Between 2012 and 2015, 97 per cent of leases and 50 per cent of sales were negotiated directly between the Department and an individual, without a public expression of interest process. The Department publishes limited information about decision-making processes, policies or plans for future sales and leases.

Proceed with caution if you participate in this online consultation, but do participate.

For the clean, green reputation of the Clarence Coast plays a large part in what attracts tourists to the Lower Clarence, helping keep local businesses open all year round and significantly contributing to our regional economy. 

It is also a healthy, minimally modified natural estuary environment which sustains the local commercial fishing fleet, places home-caught fish on our dinner plates and allows us such an enviable lifestyle

Remember, it has always been concerned local residents, community groups and traditional owners who have been at the forefront in protecting the environmental, aesthetic, cultural, social and sustainable economic values of the Clarence River and its estuary.

Comment and participation in the survey can be done at until 9 April 2017.

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