Better Urban Infrastructure – A Freight Plan for Perth
What are we debating?
There are many arguments and debates about Roe 8 and the Perth Freight Link: political, social, economic and environmental. These arguments, however, seem emotive and disconnected from the main issue, rather than being focused on shaping a coherent urban outcome. So what is it that are we actually arguing about?
_Do we need more roads to solve a traffic problem of too many trucks?
_Is it a real problem or has it just been a political decision?
_Does the Roe 8 proposal actually solve a defined problem?
_Will we lose the Commonwealth Government’s funding if we don’t build it?
_Does that actually matter if it is a poor investment?
_Why do we not value our diminishing environmental remnants?
_Why are we not working towards transforming Fremantle into a recreation and tourism focused port and realising the amazing value capture opportunities that such long-term strategy would realise?
_Is there an alternative infrastructure plan that we will help grow the whole of the WA economy?
Here, we attempt to connect the various threads of the debate together and get to the heart of what is core for the future of Perth.
Are we seeing the big picture?
There is a high level of emotion being poured out into ‘stopping Roe Highway’ and the port connection, primarily for environmental reasons, though the ongoing arguments of increasing port related traffic and ‘trucks in my back yard’ are closely linked. Likewise the passion being steered toward protecting the Beeliar Wetlands and the nearby bush land is real.
But as these arguments continue, we need to ask if we are seeing the bigger picture? At its heart is the nature, layout, function and composition of Fremantle port and the respective roles of the inner and outer harbours – and whether or not we are capturing the best opportunity for longer term benefit for the Perth region and WA as whole. If we continue down the path we are on, history suggests that we’ll miss out on the opportunity to take the long-view and build for our future, to our detriment.
While commitments have been made and work is under way, there is still time to find a solution which would provide a set of integrated responses that would deliver long term social, environmental and economic benefits.
Focusing on the ‘big picture’ – that is to design and develop a long term, internationally competitive freight infrastructure solution for a growing ‘international city’ – could set the region in a clear direction for decades to come.
Big infrastructure decisions deserve an open debate and with an election looming, time is running out for clear thinking.
The history of this proposal includes the fact that the State Government was provided funding from the Commonwealth Government with the requirement to build a toll-based freight link to the present container terminal taking trucks off Leach Highway. Such a proposal is very unusual as the Commonwealth don’t usually initiate transport projects. There is the risk that should this money not be spent on the current road proposal, then the funding would be lost to other submissions better aligned with the federal governments funding criteria.
From an economic perspective, rather than starting with a funding proposal linked with roads, why not look at the real needs for freight and cargo movement, then find a way to finance the most appropriate solution?
When first announced, the freight route connection to Fremantle inner harbour seemed to be going against the long term plan that even the Fremantle Port Authority had clearly stated, which was to build a container port in Kwinana. This idea has been in place for the Perth Metropolitan Region initiated by Professor Gordon Stephenson.
The Roe 8 extension and Roe 9 tunnel are forecast to cost $1.403 Billion1. It has already been stated that this could be a substantial underestimate, as national and international experience suggests around $400 million per kilometre when all tunnelling, exhaust systems for the diesel fumes from freight transport and above ground linkages are included. Roe 10 has not yet been decided but if it were genuinely providing trucks with a quick route to the port it would have to provide major overpasses and a doubling of the Stirling Bridge which is probably another $1 billion.
The proposal now being executed is expensive; it is probably the biggest infrastructure project in WA history, and while it will alleviate traffic issues on Leach Highway, it fails to address the long term needs of developing an ideal freight facility for WA. It sets in place a set of investment decisions that locks the City into continuing down the path of maintaining an industrial port cheek by jowl with Fremantle.
The most appropriate question that all of Western Australia needs to ask might be: Are we making the best investment decision about freight linkages and port infrastructure that will help drive the economy and set Perth and WA up for a 21st century economy?
In answering this question the first place we have looked is at international experience. Our review suggests that almost all colonial ports around the world have out grown their economic and practical life. Most 19th century ports were built in river mouths to protect sailing ships as they attempted to anchor safely. Old city fabric developed in close contact with these old ports.
The coming of containers has changed this completely as they require huge amounts of land and generate large numbers of trucks that are not compatible with the old urban fabric of these old ports. The development of an outer port with new port facilities to meet the changing types of cargo and to avoid the conflicts between contemporary port requirements has been a trend globally for at least two to three decades since containerisation demanded larger ports and more efficient land side freight infrastructure. This has led to flow on benefits of old port towns being gentrified and transformed into vibrant urban places (such as in this case Fremantle). Other Australian cities have shifted their container ports away from their historic sailing ship-based locations.
Why have we not made that shift to a dedicated, modern container port a core part of our strategy? It’s been part of official planning documents2 and even the Port Authority’s plans and annual reports.
One of the key questions at the heart of this issue are about whether or not we can afford that type of big picture change, how to facilitate its development and how to finance it.
To answer that, we suggest a strategy that draws on the work of others in a pointed and direct way and which is achievable.
A freight solution that leads to economic growth and environmental enhancement.
Putting the Roe 8 debate into the context of a longer term economic strategy for the metropolitan area is essential. The metropolitan freight solution for Perth is a big picture issue that is complex because there a number of interconnected strands.
One aspect is relieving freight traffic pressures on Leach Hwy as it seeks to access the north mole of the Fremantle Inner Harbour. There is no question that there is congestion and safety concerns along Leach Hwy, but the bigger story is also linked to the role of freight related trade (both import and export) with international destinations.
The wider context of this debate is somehow constrained by the less than strong status of the WA economy. While finances are short, alternative funding sources and creative procurement methodologies become necessary. At stake is a globally attractive investment opportunity in a world looking for sound investment for a long run infrastructure solution. This would be a progressive infrastructure strategy. International super funds seem willing to put money into a sound strategy that has an eye on the long view.
The reality is that political commitments to get trucks off Leach Highway are not necessarily in the interest of the best economic outcomes for the long term in Perth and Western Australia in general. The port is critical for much of our economic activity across a substantial area of the state.
While the contextual issues above are real, they tend to confuse what really matters.
The right questions – what problem(s) are we trying to solve?
Breaking that down into a series of questions and answers might look something like the points points below:
1. What is the best freight and infrastructure for the future of Perth and the State?
It would be one that provides super-fast and super-efficient freight logistics with immediate access to an intermodal hub at the Outer Harbour that has plenty of land-side growth capacity, along with an intermodal terminal at Kewdale and Forrestfield3. There is no value in investing in expansion of the Inner Harbour at the expense of getting the Outer Harbour moving now. This would allow port and other related industry to exist on contiguous, well serviced land adjacent to the port. It would be ‘best for the state’ because it would also give us a 21st century port facility that would help us attract international businesses that currently chooses to operate in Singapore or eastern Australia (because our facilities aren’t as good or at least are not at world best practice). It would ideally be on land unimpeded by the kind of knowledge economy jobs that are flourishing in places like Fremantle and that doesn’t impact on surrounding residential development. It wouldn’t conflict with the liveability attributes of what is arguably one of the most attractive colonial port cities (globally). It would respect the historical value of Fremantle port and provide the opportunity over the longer term for North Mole to be reimagined, with the Inner Harbour progressively focusing on being a hive for local recreation and international tourism uses as well as creating a knowledge economy precinct in the heart of Fremantle. The service and tourism related jobs would provide an enormous investment in transitioning the old facilities into something new; it would easily provide the long-term value capture the government needs to help support the transition.
This is a strategy that has been applied at many colonial ports with fantastic results. Darling Harbour is an Australian example. Many exist around the world including Cape Town, Singapore and London and can be seen on google maps.
We also need to remember that part of the existing proposals include other out of date thinking including widening Curtin Avenue through the western suburbs and connection to the Stephenson Hwy alignment further north. Much of what is on the table today has its origins in the planning from the 1950 and 60s. Surely, we know enough today to say some of the old thinking needs to be removed out of the Metropolitan Region Scheme.
2. What would produce the most employment and investment opportunities?
It is well recognised and has been planned for decades that a fully integrated freight and logistic system linking Kewdale and the Outer Harbour, which is strategically located within the manufacturing and employment lands in Henderson and Latitude 33 area, give us the best opportunity for new jobs and new businesses that would be based around new road and rail facilities that go around the city and cross to Kwinana through presently planned routes with minimal impact. The new businesses created around this 21st century port would be in a form that would co-exist comfortably with an Outer Harbour, making it much easier to attract international investors to the new port facility. By contrast Fremantle’s industrial port type facilities presently in the inner harbour are constrained and their ongoing expansion would set up all sorts of unnecessary conflicts. Road expansion will always hit a major constraint at the East Fremantle and North Fremantle end as well as on the residential areas north, south and east. Rail expansion of the freight link between Fremantle and Kwinana would impact on the heritage and tourist facilities at the fisherman’s wharf and West End as well as prevent passenger rail extensions to the south.
3. What are the environmental trade-offs?
At face value, it would seem that there are environmental issues associated with whichever freight solution is delivered. In the case of the Beeliar Wetlands, the damage caused by the road, although limited in area, cannot be undone nor properly obviated by environmental off-sets. In the case of creating an outer harbour terminal, however, existing impacts caused by works undertaken before science informed us better, could be rectified in more contemporary environmental practices – a net improvement.
The Cockburn Wetlands have been valued for many years through people like George Seddon’s Sense of Place and the report that set up the Beeliar Regional Park in 1975 called for Roe 8 to be removed from the Metropolitan Region Scheme.1 They have been studied over and over and recently the Banksia Woodlands part of the area was recognised as an endangered ecosystem. Despite an EPA Report suggesting that the area should be protected the project went ahead and has been clearing the remnant bushland wetlands.
For some, the bushland and wetlands are being traded off against an argument that Cockburn Sound will be further detrimentally impacted by Outer Harbour construction.
A key environmental issue for the development of an outer harbour, associated with increased shipping, is water quality. It is well evidenced that the most significant beneficial management action that would improve the health of the Cockburn Sound ecosystem would be allowing a greater flow of water movement through the southern end of the system, where the causeway to the Naval Base presently restricts water flow. The water flow modelling done in the 1970s equated effectively to using a match box sized structure in a wash basin to somehow argue that the short length of bridge structure in that causeway could produce all the water flow requirement to look after the health of Cockburn sound. We now know that is substantially wrong and that investment in establishing more bridge structures along the causeway or replacing it completely with a bridge would act as the single most important management strategy for the health of this important environmental asset.
The outer harbour terminal solution would therefore allow us to focus on a strategy of environmental repair rather than on the ongoing loss of natural heritage.
Environmental questions previously asked around the impacts of a new outer harbour have focussed on a 15 year old FPA proposal to be placed in Cockburn Sound as the best land-backed site (James Point). New proposals would now need to be developed in accordance with current environmental standards and with known practices for protecting sea-grass beds and other natural assets irrespective of which site is selected. Previous proposals included a private site owned by the Buckeridge family. The sea grass losses on the old FPA site did raise some issues with an EPA assessment but most people associated with the Kwinana Port now would prefer a land-backed site for economic and environmental reasons. The Buckeridge site was also assessed by the EPA and was given a clear positive to proceed with none of the inflammatory statements about environmental damage written by Paul Murray2.
4. How do we get trucks off Leach Hwy?
Much of the debate has been centred on the issue of truck and passenger vehicle traffic on Leach Highway. The same issue flows onto other roads that are used for Port access between Leach highway and North Fremantle. This may or may not be a key determinant in developing the best port solution for WA, however, the impacts of trucks on liveability and amenity for housing areas and urban development are very real. The options are therefore to either put the trucks in a long tunnel, find an alternative route or find an alternative mode of transport.
The reason why there are freight trucks on Leach Hwy is simple. We have not developed a freight logistics system that can take containers efficiently to a port. This is of course inherently difficult if we are limited to servicing an increasing number of trucks into North Fremantle. There is no question about this conflict, but the proposed Roe 8 and Roe 9 solution have been justified (especially the Roe 9 tunnel) on the basis that they provide more efficient passenger vehicle movements. That may be the case, but all options for the harbour would achieve that outcome and either way, it is separate from addressing the greater need to develop a more competitive future Port outcome. The current proposal will continue to build congestion around the Inner Harbour around Stirling Hwy and Tydeman Rd in North Fremantle? The Roe 9 tunnel would have little change in the numbers going down the highway for a range of reasons including the need for placarded loads to avoid the tunnel (at least 30% of the trucks), plus the number of destinations not being served by that route.
The answer to getting trucks off Leach Hwy for years has been to start moving on the Outer Harbour. There is also a strong argument for more ongoing surveillance and managing of the existing bad behaviour of both passenger vehicle drivers and trucks. We also seem to have forgotten the well demonstrated fact that as soon as vehicles are removed from part of the major road system (in this case getting the trucks of Leach Hwy) the system soon fills up with other vehicles who look to find the quickest route through the system.
5, Is the debate just about shifting freight from trucks to rail?
The case being put here is that a dedicated port facility served by an intermodal transfer hub connecting the port with road and rail links to industrial and warehousing locations would provide the most effective, most efficient and most advanced facility for Perth and WA. Increasing the amount of freight that goes by rail over the shortest distance from the harbour is inevitably part of the equation.
While the question around this proposal relates to capitalising on the value of investment in established infrastructure (there has been significant investment in the inner harbour infrastructure over many years), an outer harbour proposal would initially build on existing infrastructure with new supporting infrastructure to be developed in stages over a long period of time. This would see the continuation of existing transport patterns and continued use of existing infrastructure for some time into the future.
Clearly there are a lot of small and medium sized businesses whose livelihoods depend on maintaining the present system, which has 17% on rail and 83% on road. However, the only way to truly enable a shift to around 30% rail as has been planned, is to build a new port at Kwinana with modern road and rail infrastructure, including intermodal terminals such as Kewdale and Latitude 32.
If the Perth Freight Link is built, then we are unlikely to be able to create a better balance in the freight system for many decades with the current extent of investment not likely to be repeated for many years. A transition strategy is needed to find new opportunities within a more sophisticated strategy for those affected businesses with intermodal facilities and clear boundaries about where trucks work best and where rail works best for the greater good. The outcome we all need to be chasing is one that makes sure that every cent we spend in the infrastructure is heading towards the widest set of benefits.
6. Was the Commonwealth properly informed about modelling freight?
The freedom of information papers released by the State Government about this process focus on a set of documents exchanged between state government road and transport authorities and the Commonwealth. The focus of the exchange is about efficacy of the justification and exchanges about transport modelling outcomes.
It is unclear to what extent the limitations of the modelling tool used – referred to as the Regional Operations Model or ROM for short were considered in the decision making process.
This model has been around for a long time and gradually modified and adapted over time. Its biggest limitation is that it only models traffic and is not able to assess mode shift and relies on assumptions about mode shifts to or from road to rail thus it is not a focused tool for freight and logistics assessments.
An independent review4 in 2014 of Perth’s modelling tools highlighted their limitations and argued for the need of a new tool in line with current international best practice. The new modelling tool was proposed to be called Perth Land and Transport Integrated Urban Model (or PLATINUM). The function of this proposed model would be to meet the short fall of the existing tools and include within it a freight transport model. This was not done.
Concerns also existed around the task of providing the numbers to a private sector consultancy that had been fined $280 m for providing misleading data to justify a private toll road in a separate project in Brisbane5. That business subsequently announced that they would not do traffic modelling again.
A further query exists around the modelling and assessment of the current proposal in relation to the societal wide limitations of the Inner Harbour capacity. The process for doing this involves a submission to Infrastructure Australia (IA). This submission was approved as the only projected submitted by WA following a long policy of not making submissions. The Benefit Cost Ratio used in the assessment process was calculated mostly on time savings by trucks and cars. Yet the Perth Freight Link has no clear way that the section now called Roe 10 could get through to the port. This part of the journey is the most congested and yet the modelling suggested 8 minutes time savings for the traffic. This would be an economic benefit if it were real, however, the traffic is more likely to be severely constrained at the Fremantle end of the journey.6 And as pointed out above, the traffic modelling assumed passenger vehicles use this new infrastructure without examining how alternatives for passengers could be created as required by the IA process.
7. What do the shipping companies want?
Without claiming any expert knowledge or inside information here, our observations and ‘on-line research’ conveys that shipping companies want ‘just in time’ turn-around of ships in ports, readily available back-up loading and unloading facilities and safe passage for manoeuvring into and out of harbours. Anecdotal evidence has been that every time one a large container vessel enters the Inner Harbour, a port that is still essentially a colonial port, the blood pressure of all involved goes up.
Around the world, the shift to container cargo and larger vessels has predicated the shift to a new style and design of harbour with bigger ships, bigger loads and a bigger port (See Figure 1).
Figure 1: Showing how container-carrying capacity has increased by approximately 1,200% since 1968. Source: Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (size data from: container-transportation.com )
What’s holding us back?
It would seem that although planning agencies and other advocates of economic growth have been documenting the value of an Outer Harbour for a decade or more, a strategy to realise this opportunity has been repeatedly shelved.
The initiative to shift the port to Kwinana has been taken up in this vacuum by local government. The City of Fremantle set up the most recent debate with a policy paper The Perth Freight Link: Making the Right Investment Perth’s Freight Task, in 20157. However, the Kwinana Council has been planning the Outer Harbour since the 1950’s when the Stephenson-Hepburn Plan was first prepared. The work done by councils in the south west of Perth has now been called the Indian Ocean Gateway and their work is a powerful statement showing why a modern port with all the necessary space and links to road and rail is preferred (see Figure 2).
For some reason, this analysis was not provided to the Commonwealth as an alternative to the PFL. The port at Kwinana is likely to have the best economic outcomes and the best environmental and social outcomes; it is in fact a remarkably simple solution.
Likewise, the flow-on benefits of the Outer Harbour strategy also seem to be missing from debate. If the community had access to this information, environmentalists would rally behind improving the marine ecology of Cockburn Sound – not by preventing further port development but by undoing the damming effect of the Causeway to Garden Island and by using the opportunity of substantial investment to re-establish the natural clean-water flushing of the sound.
Unions would understand that continuing to invest in the Inner Harbour will mean a reduction in jobs through automation – without the spin-off new business through international competitiveness – and that a dedicated expansion of the Outer Harbour would provide a clear pathway to job growth.
The tourism, residential and planning benefits of a major regeneration project for all surrounding residents and users would be self-explanatory, as would the ongoing increase in tourism related benefits to our economy of transforming Fremantle’s north mole. A 1986 study on the ‘Fremantle City Harbour Interface’ concluded that the redevelopment of Victoria Quay was a pending opportunity given the inevitable movement of container shipping to the outer harbour.
Operators would see the practical benefits of a land-based Outer Harbour terminal with immediate access to an intermodal hub and rail based connection to the major industrial areas across the metropolitan area, including the opportunity for air freight and land freight integration with links Perth airport.
Can the State afford it?
Current economic circumstances do not favour the expenditure of billions of dollars on any project. If that is going to happen, however, then it should be on investments that provide the greatest long term benefit and return on investment to the State. A strategy is required – much like a business plan – to ensure that long term outcomes can be delivered step by step and so that every dollar spent goes toward achieving the long term outcome that provides the greatest benefit to the State.
Based on the concepts and space being planned for the new Container Port at Kwinana and its associated plan ‘the Indian Ocean Gateway’, economist Cameron Edwards has estimated the following economic benefits (Table 1):
Table 1: Economic Comparison
A number of commentators have mentioned that regional ports should be able to take a lot more container tra c and that this would take the pressure o the growth in containers in Perth.
There is a problem with Container Ports – they need to be exporting and importing so that con- tainers don’t just stack up at the port. Only if this is roughly in balance will container logistics com- panies invest in a container terminal. Bulk prod- ucts like iron ore and natural gas are not good for containers. Roll-on and Roll-o containers are now appearing that sit on rail bogeys; they can make it possible to push containers out of a ship and onto rail tracks without needing large crane systems. Less cranes in the port would also mean that crane safety becomes less of an issue aswell. These could then be transferred to an intermodal terminal where their contents are removed and the empty containers taken by truck to Perth or elsewhere. This remains highly expensive, however, unless some way of using the containers for back lling can be found.
While creating a container terminal at Bunbury may be viable, as they are able to import and export a range of products, other ports would need further economic diversi cation before their ports could expand this way.
The next phase of economic development is likely to see container growth still focused in the Fremantle Port Authority jurisdiction, strength- ening the need for an Outer Harbour facility at Kwinana.
The next question is how to make this strategy happen?
So the debate isn’t only about protecting wet- lands and bushlands or about truck tra c on Leach Hwy into North Fremantle. It’s not about the redevelopment opportunity for the North Fremantle industrial area or other surrounding land. It’s about making Perth competitive in an economical and planned way and that achieves this with minimal social and environmental impact. It’s about jobs and development in appropriate locations. It’s about the reputation of our state internationally.
The obvious answer is a plan and a process to develop a land-based Outer Harbour at Kwinana.
This will require signi cant partnerships to be provided with the private sector who are closest to the freight and logistics industries, across government agencies, and with local commu- nities who are now highly sensitized to this issue. Once these partnerships are established in a transparent and dedicated infrastructure planning process it will be possible to develop a business case and infrastructure nancing plan that delivers the most societal bene ts.
This can be done quickly if the State Government wants to do it, as has been shown with projects like the tripling of iron ore output in the recent decade in the Pilbara and with the Freman- tle-based America’s Cup preparations. Both of these had clear deadlines and were achieved within the required timelines due to the kind of partnerships that would be required for an Outer Harbour. It’s a question of political leadership and will.
The role of the private sector and international investment is important in this process. The idea of seeking foreign investors in our port facilities has merit and can be done in a way that provides long-term bene ts for Western Australians.
Key to this will be establishing a ‘Port Tender’ process that sets out the outcomes we are seeking. The key to getting the process right will be to establish a clear framework of outcomes and timeline for delivering the progressive shift from the Inner Harbour to the Outer Harbour. A simple mechanism would be for the government to establish a quota of container movements to be shipped through the Outer Harbour in the short term and allow that to progressively increase. If that quota was set now for at least 200,000 container movements pa, plus cars and livestock, the Outer Harbour would become a viable investment opportunity. The existing investment in port infrastructure at the Inner Harbour could live out its useful life and be retired progressively.
As that shift happens, the Inner Harbour and surrounding areas can be reimagined and redeveloped, providing additional returns to the government, the community and the investors involved. There are many who have already envisioned how this area could be redeveloped. (see Figure 3: Image of a future Fremantle (used with permission)).
The recommendation is that we take the long view and not be constrained by existing vested interests. This is an opportu- nity for an integrated solution that delivers transformation on many levels and sets Perth (and Fremantle) up as contem- porary of other major trading locations. The result is some- thing of bene t for the whole of Western Australia.
1 George Seddon (1972) Sense of Place, UWA Press. Newman P et al (1975) The Cockburn Wetlands Study, A study for the National Estate, Commonwealth Government, Canberra.
1 According to the Sunday Times – January 15, 2017
2 All the various forms of metropolitan plans for a decade or more and their equivalent transport strategies have identi ed the need for the Outer Harbour
3 Nothing new here – we draw on all the preceding work such as successive freight strategies and the Perth and Peel Economic Devel- opment Strategy and Infrastructure Pan to 2050 prepared by Regional Development Australia & Economic Development Australia which was supported by 14 metropolitan Local Governments.
4 PATREC – Going Platinum – A new approach to transport modelling in Perth (October 2014).
5 The Wall Street Journal, Sept 21 2015.
6 See Peter Newman, Blind Freddy can see new harbour needed, not freight link. The West Australian, Dec 22, 2016.
7 See City of Fremantle website on PFL including a video The Outer Harbour – An Alternative to Roe 8, featuring the Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt and the Mayor of Kwinana Carol Adams.
Peter Newman, CUSP, Curtin University, AO is the John Curtin Distinguished Professor of Sustainability at CUSP, Curtin University. He is an internationally regarded expert on Cities and Transport Policy.
Cameron Edwards, infrastructure and corporate advisor, is an infrastructure and corporate advisor who has worked on the outer harbour and other major infrastructure projects.