Planning, Politics, Pleasure, and the Public Interest: Cruise Ships Randwick or Garden Island

The Growing Freight Task in Botany Bay

Anzac Day 2004, and the MSC Fabienne, almost 3 football fields in length and 54 metres high from its keel to the top of its mast, sailed past Cook’s landing place loaded with more than 5000 empty containers. It sailed into Sydney Harbour, there to be “admired by holiday crowds and visited by members of the Australian shipping industry.”(Southern Courier, 27/4/2004) Mr Clarke, the Australian Managing Director of MSC, Fabienne’s owner, commented “this will help reduce the mountains of empties which have built up at Port Botany over the past 18 months”.

Over the following years a 63ha 3rd Container Terminal was added to Port Botany along with an additional Bulk Liquids Terminal ,expansions of Vopak Site B and Site A, the Elgas Qenos pipeline, and an increase in Terminals Bulk Liquids storage. In addition the precinct also saw the new paper mill (Orora),   4 of the 6 EPA licensed premises at Port Botany (the DP World terminal) are classed as Major Hazard Facilities.  There are another 5 in neighbouring Banksmeadow (a total of 39 in NSW). Further Details

(from the NSW Freight and Ports Plan 2018-2023)

Despite this being a Heavy Industrial and Freight Precinct the Port Authority of New South Wales, has recently progressed a Strategic Business Case for a cruise terminal attached or adjacent to the Container Terminal that contains the 4 Major Hazard Facilities.  It is not unusual for cruise passengers to dock at container terminals but it is an entirely different  case when they do so within a hazardous industry buffer zone. Not only does it have the potential to pose an unacceptable risk to cruise passengers but in an event it would add additional pressure to Emergency Services. See story on event at Port Botany in 2013.Under Strategic Business case guidelines the Minister responsible for the Port Authority (Constance) is not required to consult with the Minister responsible for Planning (Stokes).

The Cruise proposal has moved into the development of  a Detailed Business Case.


Applying the Guidelines will facilitate preparing a business case based on robust logic that links the proposed investment and policy intervention with immediate and long-term outcomes and benefits, including strategic Government priorities, i.e. State Outcomes. Critical parameters such as cost, time, limitations, quality, social and environmental benefits should be documented, along with an assessment of the agency’s capability for timely delivery of the project or program. (page 1, Treasury Guidelines)

These Guidelines, from August 2018,  are a revision of the 2000 Guidelines and differ from those by:

Strong emphasis on benefits identification, management and realisation from the case for change all the way to post project implementation.

References to existing and related NSW Government policy papers, guidelines and circulars.

Despite incurring the expense of consultants there is no requirement to consult Planning at this stage. If the Detailed Business Case progresses it will go to a Development Application stage.  All relevant agencies will be required to provide requirements (SEARs) to be addressed in an Environmental Impact Statement likely to cost $hundreds of thousands.

The most recent major developments in Botany Bay  Government Agencies have been the developers: Sydney Ports’  3rd Port Terminal, a reclamation of 63 ha, the Energy Australia Cable, and the Sydney Water Desalination pipeline.  These were approved by the Iemma Government and dredging occurred in 2008-2009.

For the Energy Australia Cable, Randwick Council recommended a route along Prince of Wales Drive to reduce impacts on residents and Bare Island but the Energy Australia’s preferred route (in consultation with Sydney Ports) remained (adjacent Bare Island, through the National Park and along Anzac Parade and Bunnerong Road). In a submission to the Environmental Impact Statement(EIS) in 2007 Sydney Ports (now Port Authority) flagged future widening and deepening of the shipping channel. In the case of the Desalination pipeline another site was preferred by experts but rejected.  A Commission of Inquiry recommended against the 3rd Port Terminal Expansion preferring smaller expansions of the existing two terminals because of the environmental impacts, proximity to Sydney Airport and the rail and road constraints.  The Commission was overruled by the Iemma Government. One of the reasons provided for justification of the 3rd terminal was jobs, yet in August 2015 half the workforce at the terminal was sacked. 

COAL for Newcastle; CRUISE for Sydney; CONTAINERS for Botany Bay and CARS for Wollongong

By 2010 container shipping had closed in Sydney Harbour and the motor vehicle trade had been moved to Port Kembla to make way for cruise ships at White Bay.  The focus at Newcastle, which had been planned as the next container port in New South Wales under the 2003 Ports Growth Plan shifted further to coal after the 3rd Port Botany Terminal was approved. The third coal loader was opened in 2010, a fourth was planned in 2009, approved in 2015 but  cancelled last year  in response to the decline in demand for thermal coal.

Additional Cruise Capacity for Sydney Harbour

Over the past 10 years the importance of the Cruise industry has grown and successive governments from Rees, Keneally, O’Farrell, Baird and Berejiklian have held or participated in reviews and inquiries.  The most comprehensive of these was the Commonwealth’s Hawke Review of 2011.  The majority of submissions (including cruise industry representatives) to the Review favoured a Sydney Harbour solution which would see sharing of Garden Island with the Navy and reciprocal arrangements for Navy ships at other Sydney Ports sites in Sydney Harbour.  Athol Bay was suggested by the CEO of Taronga Zoo and the Mosman and Neutral Bay Chambers of Commerce were also supporters.  Opposition was expressed by some Naval personnel as well as  Mr Andrew Woodhouse, President of the Potts Point and Kings Cross Residents Society. Mr Woodhouse suggested a pontoon in Botany Bay. Further details on the Hawke Review appear below.

After the confidential Review, conducted by Peter Collins (photo) in 2017 the Federal Government ruled out any permanent sharing arrangement of Naval and Port Authority resources.  Last year, Malcolm Turnbull, then Prime Minister and MP for Wentworth restated this position after the publication of the 2018 Cruise Development Plan.  The plan identified the preferred options from the 2017 review as Garden Island West, followed by Garden Island North East.  Molineux Point was listed at 3 and Yarra Bay as 4.(page 15) 

Garden Island is located within the Sydney Electorate (MP Tanya Plibersek), bordering Wentworth on the East.

Strategic Planning

Strategic plans for Sydney have been produced by the Greater Sydney Commission headed by Lucy Turnbull:

Our mission if you like – our mandate – is to make sure that Sydney’s planning in its wider sense not just how tall buildings are but how our transport works how our social services and infrastructure works, our schools, our hospitals, as well as our roads and our bridges and our footpaths all work and come together to create a great, well connected city and a city of great places and great spaces for the people of Sydney.

Cruise is only mentioned in relation to managing the conflicts in Sydney Harbour. The Commission has this to say about the Port Precinct and the national importance of the task – page 68 of the Eastern City Plan

The District Plan aligns with the Transport for NSW Freight and Ports Plan (see above).  In the Tourism and Transport 2056 Strategy investigation for a possible terminal at Molineux and Yarra is listed as well as Hayes Dock for the short-term.  However, the following is also stated:

cruise ships can berth out of hours and frequently have short stopovers. Visitors expect to access retail and leisure activities with minimal travelling time. (page 66)

Submission to GSC December 2017 on behalf of owners of Bulk Liquids (Elgas, Origin, Vopak, Terminals) concerning road access (in 2017 were unaware that a cruise proposal would be seriously  considered). 

The Infrastructure Australia Audit 2019  identifies Cruise as a priority for Sydney but does not suggest Port Botany.  In relation to Port Botany it is concerned by the congestion that hampers the freight task around Australia’s largest ports. Page 339: “Figure 32 shows congestion in 2016 around Port Botany and the Port of Melbourne. The mapping shows very heavy congestion on key arterial access routes to the ports” .

As with a number of studies of the Port precinct the Hutchison Terminal (Hayes Dock) is missing from maps. 

The Infrastructure NSW, Building Momentum Strategy 2018-2038  identifies Cruise as a priority for Sydney but does not identify Botany Bay. Rather it emphasises the importance of the freight task at Port Botany:

Maintaining the efficiency of infrastructure networks and access to the international trade gateways of Sydney Airport and Port Botany will be critical to support the ongoing competitiveness of the city and of NSW. (page 105)

As Sydney grows, competition for valuable land will intensify. Pressure to accommodate population growth may have unintended consequences for the operation of freight infrastructure, including impacts on the efficiency of supply chains. To address these issues, the NSW Government introduced the Three Ports State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) in 2014. This policy created consistent planning controls across Port Botany, Port Kembla and the Port of Newcastle, protecting these vital assets from incompatible land uses and establishing appropriate zoning of land and waterways to accommodate port uses ……………………These instruments should: • preserve strategically important clusters of industrial land in proximity to international gateways and freight related infrastructure (such as intermodal terminals, major roads and freight rail lines) • identify, protect and preserve the existing and future freight-related road, rail and pipeline infrastructure. This includes identifying compatible and incompatible land uses in proximity to freight related infrastructure • restrict the expansion of permitted uses on industrial lands around international gateways and freight-related infrastructure to avoid displacing traditional industrial developments (that is, reducing pressure on the affordability of industrial lands for ‘lower value’ industrial uses) • prohibit incompatible development along key access roads so that they can be used for truck routes to transport freight, including dangerous 140)

Protecting Port Botany 

The Three Ports State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) is the planning instrument that was developed to protect the port and industry from commercial and residential ‘encroachment’ thereby providing certainty for significant business investment and also for surrounding communities. The aims of this Policy are as follows:

(a)  to provide a consistent planning regime for the development and delivery of infrastructure on land in Port Botany, Port Kembla and the Port of Newcastle,

(b)  to allow the efficient development, re-development and protection of land at Port Botany, Port Kembla and the Port of Newcastle for port purposes,

(g)  to ensure that land around the Lease Area is maintained for port-related and industrial uses, including heavy industry on land around Port Kembla.

Three Ports SEPP Amendment

NSW Ports holds the lease for Port Botany from 2013-2112. In its submission  to the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities  AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT’S ROLE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF CITIES 31 July 2017, the Australian Logistics Council provided Port Botany as a Case Study in the problem of encroachment faced by investors in the Port/Industrial Precinct.


NSW Ports submission to November 2018 Upper House Inquiry on the “Impact of Port of Newcastle sale arrangement on public works expenditure in New South Wales”







The Hawke Review

The 2011 Hawke Review Report into accessing Garden Island for Cruise

As suggested in the City of Sydney submission to Hawke Review


Option 4 – Lease Fleet Base Berths 1-5 to SPC and develop a Replacement Wharf for Navy on the eastern side of Garden Island. 28 This option proposes a transfer by the Commonwealth of the entire 870 metres of wharf on the western side of Garden Island (Fleet Base Berths 1-5) to SPC, through a long term lease arrangement, permanently segregating cruise ship and Defence functions. A new fully-serviced wharf facility providing equivalent wharf metres would be constructed on the eastern side of Garden Island, for exclusive naval use. xi 29 The NSW Department of Roads and Maritime Services would need to implement new traffic arrangements for large vehicle access to Garden Island to support cruise ship turnaround. 30 Minimum total capital investment is estimated at $342 million. 31 As there is no Defence requirement for this development, capital facilities costs associated with this option should be offset completely through the SPC leasing and facilities transfer process. 32 This option would fully meet both Navy and the cruise industry’s requirement for berth space. It is the only shared option at Garden Island that also fully meets Navy’s security and operating requirements. It may also provide space for smaller cruise vessels at Fleet Base Berths 4-5, thus supplementing the cruise ship facilities currently being developed by the NSW Government at White Bay to meet short term requirements. 33 It is unlikely this option could be fully operational until at best 2025 and it would be likely to inflame local resident opposition

(from City of Sydney submission)

4.19 The viability of these options is for the SPC to determine, but the Western Option seems doubtful given that this sits over the existing Port Botany Bulk Liquids Berth which is due for further expansion with a second berth due to be operational by mid 2013. The 60-hectare Stage 3 expansion footprint of Port Botany has recently been completed and handed over to the new terminal operator Hutchinson Port Holdings (HPH). 4.20 The Royal Caribbean submission estimates this development could provide suitable additional berth space for up to 15 years, while container trade destined to dominate this facility in the long-term is still growing. Use of this facility would alleviate short to medium term congestion concerns. It 55 would require the wharf surface and access roads to be completed ahead of the current planned construction cycle to support cruise ship access, noting any enhancements would support container trade as well as cruise shipping. 4.21 The City of Sydney submission noted that, while such a proposition would need to be judged commercially viable, HPH also operates cruise ship terminals in other international ports. Moreover, this cruise ship terminal structure need not be permanent; submissions from both Royal Caribbean and Carnival Australia indicate temporary structures, such as serviced marquees or a large shed, would be adequate for the required role. 4.22 One site in the Stage 3 expansion suggested as having long-term potential to meet the growing cruise ship requirement is the area known as ‘the Knuckle’. Located on the south-western end of the Stage 3 expansion footprint, existing commercial arrangements may result in potentially insufficient landside area for successful container operations, thus posing the possibility of its permanent use for cruise ships. At the very least, this area could be used for some time until stevedoring operations require that end of the wharf. 4.23 Carnival’s preference is for all cruise ship berths to be located in Sydney Harbour. Royal Caribbean has indicated that it would turn around most of its ships at Port Botany were this option available.

Submissions to the 2011 Review. 

Note comments the Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage and Residents Society  made in 2017 about Navy operations.

Randwick City Council’s response to Cruise for Meeting 26th November 2019 





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