A key sector once seen as a key driver of economic growth for the area has gone off the boil.
The council’s planning department recommended to last night’s council meeting that no further action or strategies be pursued to develop the freight and logistics sector.
It does not preclude private operators establishing on available industrial land. However, if adopted, the council would not chase opportunities “in isolation.”
The recommendation follows a council-commissioned report into the freight and logistics sector. The GHD study, completed for $19,300, concluded that while Goulburn had land, labour, services and infrastructure to support the sector, its distance from Sydney was too great for it to become a distribution hub for the urban area. This was largely due to imminent completion of intermodal terminals in western Sydney and the 200km distance to Goulburn.
Nor was it likely to attract Melbourne investors.
Instead, the authors argued that Goulburn was better equipped to lure products within a 50km radius. It singled out the Goulburn Rail Hub in the city’s south as an example of this.
Council general manager Warwick Bennett said several factors cited in the report prompted GHD to conclude that if the sector had economic potential, it would have attracted “very keen” investment by now.
“There doesn’t seem to be a need for it in this region,” he said.
“A lot of the focus has been on the inland railway and it’s making people nervous to invest,” he said.
“Also, there is a significant logistics hub at Albury and to have one at Goulburn as well is a bit too close. Ideally, they should be 350 to 500km apart.”
The report analysed past freight and logistics proposals for Goulburn, including the Southern Distribution Hub. Pegged for land off Mountain Ash Road, the $1 billion plan never went ahead after applicant, Mariner Financial Ltd struck financial trouble.
In 2007, Eureka Funds Management proposed a $200m warehousing, distribution and logistics site at Murrays Flat, off the Hume Highway, some 10km north of Goulburn. But it too hit hard times.
The joint venture partnership with Mycorp Investments went into receivership in 2012 and the 26-lot industrial subdivision was abandoned. The land was later sold.
But the Goulburn Rail Hub has had more success, transporting up to 135,000 tonnes of treated timber logs and other products to port annually. In recent time, a new operator, Crawford Freight Lines, has utilised the Hub, transporting scrap metal and grain to port. In a coup for the company, it has also snared a contract to transport ore concentrate to port from the new mine at Woodlawn, due to be operational early next year.
The Hub’s owner, Chicago Freight, has signaled its wish to expand the facility. However CEO Ian Gibbs said the site was land constrained. Mr Bennett said the council continued to speak to Chicago Freight on its plans and had actively targeted other road and rail opportunities.
“Probably part of the nervousness of investors (more broadly) is how aggressive Canberra Airport will be in terms of freight delivery,” he said.
“There is the possibility of more airlines coming to the airport with flights into Asia.”
Mr Bennett said a 12-hour turnaround to these markets was far more attractive economically for exporters.
The study found that the 32,000 tonnes of freight moved on the Hume Highway (north of the Illawarra Highway), was expected to double by 2031. In addition, the council’s economic development plan stated that over 100,000 tonnes were moved through the Goulburn Mulwaree region each day on the Great Southern rail route.
The study does not discount interventions in the sector to encourage growth. These include promotion, land zoning, facilitation, rates or infrastructure contributions relief, land provision and direct subsidies or seed funding.
“For servicing Sydney, in simple terms, the equation appears to be offsetting the less than ideal distance with other factors such as well priced and available land, and good supporting infrastructure,” the report stated.
The authors said depending on the drivers at play, Goulburn Mulwaree could be attractive as a regional freight distribution hub, “assuming critical mass was achieved.” Ultimately, the study said the sector’s growth was a policy decision for the council.
But the staff report to councillors said given that distance from Sydney was the major impediment, other industries could create more growth “with less risk from the council.”
The council’s 2016 Employment Lands Strategy identified freight and logistics, motor sports and environmental as emerging growth areas. Mr Bennett said the strategic planning unit would now concentrate on the latter two, if councillors agreed.
“We are working closely with Wakefield Park (on its expansion plans) and the users of Mount Gray for a motor sports precinct. We hope to have a concept plan out by Christmas,” he said.
On renewable energy potential, Mr Bennett said opportunities existed but the council had not progressed them. It was, however, talking to the proponents of a large solar farm at Parkesbourne.
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