THE NSW Department of Planning has declined to confirm claims the possible closure of Carrington coal terminal was raised in the draft Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan in error, as terminal operator Port Waratah Coal Services ramped up strong objections to the proposal.
The department did not respond to a direct question from the Newcastle Herald about whether the controversial inclusion was a mistake, after the Port of Newcastle described it as an “error” this week.
On Wednesday, after the Herald revealed the department was open to exploring the end of coal terminal operations at Carrington, it noted there were “concerns about the potential for conflict between the coal terminal and the adjoining residential area”.
But Port Waratah Coal Services, which holds a lease over the Carrington site from the Port of Newcastle which is up for renewal in 2024, said the line’s inclusion “represents a significant and material risk to our ongoing operations” and was “inconsistent with our valid development consent and our existing commercial and lease agreements”.
The possible closure line also had the potential to undermine customers’ confidence in the Carrington terminal and “may also set false or unrealistic expectations in the broader community”, PWCS said.
In a submission lodged with the Department of Planning on Wednesday on the final day of a three month public exhibition period for the draft plan, PWCS called on the department to amend the statement in the final Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan and support the coal terminal remaining at Carrington.
It represents a significant and material risk to our ongoing operations, has the potential to undermine the confidence of our customers in our future ability to continue to meet their needs and may also set false or unrealistic expectations in the broader community.Port Waratah Coal Services
On Wednesday, after PWCS said it was “very surprised and extremely concerned” to see the possible closure line when the draft plan was released in November, the department said it took advice from many people and agencies while preparing the draft plan.
“In relation to the Carrington coal terminal, there were concerns about the potential for conflict between the coal terminal and the adjoining residential area,” the department said.
“We were also aware of the potential for a change to the nature of parts of Newcastle Port as tourism opportunities grew. The draft plan has suggested some options for the potential conflict to be resolved.”
The department acknowledged “long standing and opposing views from the coal export operator and the local residents about the coal export facility” which would be considered before the final plan’s release.
The single line of the draft plan which called for the Port of Newcastle to investigate the “potential to relocate coal export facilities and bulk fuel storage away from residential areas and explore options to renew the Carrington precinct for alternative uses including tourism”, delighted residents in surrounding areas.
While the Port of Newcastle, which holds a 98-year lease over the port from the NSW Government and leases the Carrington site to PWCS, called the possible closure inclusion an “error”, the department made no attempt to change the line in the nearly three months since the matter was first raised with it by PWCS.
Lock the Gate spokesperson Georgina Wood said the possible closure of the oldest terminal at the world’s largest coal export port “would be a profound symbol of change for Newcastle”.
The draft plan was released only weeks before Port of Newcastle’s new chairman, Professor Roy Green, acknowledged the “urgent need to diversify the Hunter economy and the port’s business”. He also acknowledged coal had been “at the heart of the Hunter's economy for the better part of two centuries”.
Professor Green described one of the port’s challenges as “ensuring a level playing field for the development of a viable and competitive container terminal”, after the Herald in 2016 revealed a “strictly confidential” deed that protected Port Botany from container competition, at Newcastle’s expense.
Coal represents about 96 per cent of the Port of Newcastle’s revenue.