Glebe Island must remain a working port, industry says

The NSW government plans to dramatically transform the Glebe Island precinct. Photo: Robert PearceGlebe Island should continue to operate as a working port even as the government develops the harbourside land around it, industry leaders said on Friday.

The commercial future of Glebe Island, which is Sydney’s major berth for more than 1 million tonnes of construction materials each year, has been unclear since the government released its plans to transform the Bays Precinct into an innovation district in October 2015.

At a business forum on the future of Sydney Harbour, industry leaders were especially frank with their concerns that the government had failed to appreciate the economic value of the port to the city’s commercial infrastructure.

“We must keep port land in Sydney Harbour for working-harbour activities. It is the lifeblood of the city,” Grant Gilfillan, chief executive of the Port Authority of NSW, told the forum.

“There have been various statements made by ministers that it [Glebe Island] is derelict land. That it is ready for urban regeneration, urban renewal.”

UrbanGrowth NSW, the government development agency, has not said it wants to end Glebe Island as a working point, but is resistant to the idea of apartments existing within an operational wharf precinct, the conference heard.

“Our challenge is that Urban Growth have listed a range of assumptions around this which they say are incompatible. We simply need to see that tested and challenged,” Mr Gilfillan said.

Arthur Psaltis​, finance director at Metro Environmental Logistics, which wants to ship sand from Tasmania into the port, slammed the prospect of closing the port as “ludicrous”.

Mr Psaltis said Glebe Island was an entry point into the “heart of the market” for construction because 80 per cent of Sydney’s demand for concrete existed within a 20-kilometre radius of the CBD.

Shifting commodities to Port Kembla and trucking them into the CBD would add at least 160,000 return truck movements to Sydney’s roads, he said.

“If you think the roads are bad now, it will be catastrophic in terms of what will happen to traffic on our roads. The M1 is already gridlocked.”

Rather than closing the port and relocating freighting and imports to Port Kembla near Wollongong, Mr Gilfillan said the government should pursue a mixed-use model where residential and offices are built on top of the port.

“We believe there is a way to build a port that sits underneath in a subterranean environment, with appropriate sort of urban renewal on top.”

This model has already been successfully implemented in cities abroad, such as London, the conference heard.

Lucy Owen, from the Port of London Authority, said the prospect of living above a commercial wharf had been embraced by Londoners.

“In London there are some very interesting places to live and I imagine there are some people who are quite excited about living above an operational wharf.”

Mr Psaltis said the approach of favouring multi-storey apartments over commercial development was based on a short-sighted premise of financial gain.

“The reality is, future generations will condemn us if we close this port.”

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