Push for naval base at former BHP site

THE NSW Government will consider whether the former BHP Steelworks site at Mayfield could be used to establish a $1billion naval base, after container terminal plans were effectively abandoned last month.

A Defence Force Posture Review concluded in March that the Navy would require a second base on the east coast if Garden Island succumbed to growing commercial interests in Sydney Harbour.

Editorial: City back in the base race

The Federal Government’s announcement at the weekend that it would open the Garden Island base to passenger ships has hastened the need for an alternative.

Newcastle MP Tim Owen said offering a site to the Navy for a base was now ‘‘in the mix’’ as the state government developed a masterplan for the port of Newcastle.

‘‘There is an opportunity for the Navy to look at an east coast base in Newcastle,’’ Mr Owen said.

A base would go hand-in-hand with defence contract work being undertaken by Newcastle shipbuilder Forgacs, he said.

The posture review, which looked at whether defence capability was correctly geographically positioned to meet Australia’s current and future strategic challenges, considered Newcastle as a potential base for large ships and the next class of Navy submarine.

The review ultimately recommended Brisbane over Newcastle because of ‘‘imminent development of remaining waterfront facilities in the Hunter River’’.

But the steelworks site, which offers a two-kilometre stretch of deepwater river frontage and about 90 hectares for associated infrastructure, has since become a possibility and could put the city back in contention.

Long-term plans to transform the waterfront portion of the BHP site into the state’s second container terminal are now extremely unlikely, after the NSW Government signalled in June that Port Kembla would act as a backup and overflow destination for Port Botany.

The remainder of the Mayfield site is controlled by Nathan Tinkler-backed developer Buildev, whose ambitious proposal for a coal terminal was rejected in January. That portion of the site is still flagged for a port-related industrial park.

Newcastle councillor Aaron Buman was actively promoting the possibility of a Navy base yesterday, and said the city needed to seize hold of such opportunities.

‘‘It’s no good saying ‘it will never happen’,’’ Cr Buman said.

‘‘We shouldn’t sit on our hands when an opportunity to bring a big employer to Newcastle and diversify the port presents itself.

‘‘It would stimulate the housing industry close to the harbour.’’

The steelworks site was first considered for a naval base in 2003, when a delegation of business and civic leaders presented a proposal to then defence minster Robert Hill.

A recent cost analysis concluded it would cost at least $1billion to establish a base to accommodate large ships in Newcastle.

It would cost more to establish facilities for the next class of Navy submarine, as recommended by the review.

Mr Owen said yesterday he had not given up on establishing a container terminal in Newcastle, but conceded that Port Botany and Port Kembla had been given priority.

He said the government and Newcastle Port Corporation were waiting for the results of a scoping study into Port Botany and Port Kembla before finalising the Newcastle port masterplan.

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