In September 2017, the Westport Taskforce assembled to begin a colossal undertaking: to develop a strategy to guide the supply chains through Western Australia’s ports for the next century. As it gears up to release its five shortlisted options, Infrastructure spoke to Westport’s Independent Chair, Nicole Lockwood, about its findings thus far and where the strategy is headed.
Established in 2017 by the WA Minister for Transport, Rita Saffioti, Westport was tasked with developing a long-term strategy for the state’s freight supply chains. In order to meet growing trade need for WA’s rapidly expanding population, the WA Government understood that its supply chain needed to change.
Westport needed to select the best option for WA’s supply chain that integrates port, road, rail and intermodal freight transport, while accommodating for the specific capabilities of WA’s three major ports: Fremantle, Kwinana and Bunbury.
What makes this project so unique is its scope: Westport needed to create an integrated supply chain across a large footprint to service Western Australia for the next 50 years and beyond. In essence, the undertaking boiled down to a single question: how can WA create the capacity for its freight network to accommodate growth in containers over this timeframe?
In order to keep the supply chain as cost-effective as possible, Westport’s solutions needed to be located as close as possible to where people live, but not too close as to disrupt citizens’ lives, and to ensure that the growth of urban areas could be blended with the needs for the growth in freight for the benefit of the community.
Westport: the journey so far
The Westport Taskforce, a cross-agency, independent project team led by its Chair, Nicole Lockwood, spent all of 2018 conducting extensive interviews and gathering data from stakeholders and the wider WA community.
Based on these findings, it spent the first half of 2019 working through a list of 25 possible supply chains that would allow WA to grow its network capacity.
Four of these options centered on Fremantle, four on Bunbury and 17 on Kwinana. This disparity stems from the fact that Kwinana is largely a greenfield site for containers, allowing Westport to try a number of different alternatives, whereas the four options in Fremantle and Bunbury are largely fixed to the port’s pre-existing precincts.
The Taskforce spent months expanding the 25 options to understand how they would function. Westport tested them through a multi-criteria assessment process, taking into account social, economic, environmental and operational factors, as well as community and amenity impact and social license.
During this process, the Taskforce considered each option’s economic development opportunities, and their costs to run and maintain. The options were then measured against each other to rank them from one to 25.
In August, Westport released five shortlisted options that it will then take forward to a second round of analysis. Read Infrastructure’s full overview of the five shortlisted supply chain options here.
The second round of analysis of these five options will be similar to the first round of multi-criteria assessment, but far more extensive.
“We’ll build those five options out with a lot more detail, and a lot more granularity than the first round,” Ms Lockwood said. “This will involve understanding the port precincts and how they operate, and establishing a lot more detail around the capital and operating costs.”
In thinking through the transition from the current situation into the new end strategy, Westport will also have to undertake a more detailed analysis of some of the options’ social and environmental impacts.
Ms Lockwood said Westport was committed to providing the WA Government with a final recommendation in late 2019.
“The biggest challenge we have is time, because we want to make sure we’ve got a very robust, high-quality answer for the government by the end of the year. There’s a lot of work to do in a short space of time.”
In working to this timeframe, Westport will have to point to a number of gaps in knowledge because some of this analytical work will take significant periods of time – including multiple years for certain modelling and assessment tasks.
However, the nature of a shortlisting process means that, should the government want to proceed with any one of Westport’s options beyond 2019, there is more time to do more detailed work.
“So it’s not the end, it’s actually just a planning continuum,” Ms Lockwood said.
It may even be that the Taskforce does not land on one option alone, but rather one preferred option with a secondary alternative. This is because one of the big unknowns in the process is gaining environmental approvals.
A commitment to environmental sustainability
In a Westport survey of community and interest groups from late 2018 to early 2019, 55.3 per cent of respondents listed environmental sustainability as their number one area of interest, well above any other issue. Concurrently, the Westport Strategy has committed to an ISV2.0 rating from the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA). The natural environment has therefore emerged at the forefront of debate around the Westport Strategy.
“Westport is the first masterplanning project nationally that ISCA is looking at rating. ISCA is normally involved in the project delivery phase, so this is quite new for them and for us. Together, we are thinking through what steps to take right at inception to ensure that the message and ethics of sustainability is infused in the project right from the outset.”
The Taskforce has done this by employing frameworks from the Permanent International Association of Navigational Congresses (PIANC), a global group extensively involved in innovative port planning.
Westport is following PIANC’s framework, A Guide for Applying Working with Nature to Navigation Infrastructure Projects, which proposes a reversal of traditional planning methods. The planners start with the environmental landscape, consider their infrastructure needs, then plan the infrastructure to accommodate the environment, rather than the other way around.
“For example, when we developed the 25 options, we did that with a basis of the environmental values first,” Ms Lockwood said.
“We actually had them mapped, and then looked at where we thought we could locate a port, looking for spaces that weren’t impacted by important environmental areas. Then we built around those.”
This is combined with ISCA’s frameworks, which promote the engagement model Westport is employing: being open and transparent, having people at the table, and allowing for feedback.
In addition, as members of Ports Australia, which joined the World Port Sustainability Program in March 2019, Fremantle and Bunbury Ports have the support of the Program’s frameworks, networks and resources.
Embarking on a masterplanning exercise of such magnitude inevitably involves a vast number of community engagement programs. Given how integral containers are to supporting Australians’ quality of life, the Westport Strategy will have wide-ranging impacts on the state and Australia more generally.
In order to avoid the trap of hasty, top-down planning, Westport has undertaken extensive community consultation to take into account the views of all relevant stakeholders.
“What we’re doing is planning for a network that is partially owned and operated by government, partially owned and operated by the private sector, and entirely connected to people and their everyday lives,” Ms Lockwood said.
“So in trying to come up with an answer that everyone thinks is a good one, you really need to have all of those views at the table.”
Westport’s stakeholder engagement is evidence-based and the Taskforce has taken this approach in order to encourage private sector investment and ensure confidence in the strategy.
Westport created a reference group, which currently includes over 90 organisations – about 35 local governments, as well as community groups and members from academia.
This has allowed Westport to continually test its work. While some of the technical work had to be completed by technical experts, the reference group gives Westport the opportunity to understand the different outcomes – how they might be implemented by private sector, and how they might be received by the community, were they to be pursued.
“Stakeholder management adds a lot of value to our process,” Ms Lockwood said.
“In some ways, it mitigates risk in the project even though it’s more involved. You’re potentially having numerous difficult conversations, you’re not landing on one answer, and you’re navigating how to deliver it. We’re really on that journey the whole way through.”
Leveraging old knowledge to inform new thinking
Community feedback is only one part of the data that the Taskforce must gather and analyse. Another major part of the process involved bringing together decades of previous work.
The question of the future of WA’s terminals had been posed many times before, however, these discussions usually only related to the ports themselves, not in relation to the whole supply chain. Since a lot of technical reports on road designs, port designs and environmental work was still valid (albeit in need of an update), the Taskforce catalogued and compiled all this previous research, so as not to spend more government funds than necessary.
The next stage involves consolidating these years of knowledge with new, forward-thinking work.
“There’s a new landscape now that maybe wasn’t in existence then,” Ms Lockwood said.
“There are new trends emerging – globalisation and the trends of containers. We’re 50 years into containers being established, so what will the next 50 hold? What’s the future of movement in terms of both road and rail, and how are those modes going to change?
“In terms of port design, the automation journey around the world is certainly going very quickly. When designing a new port you really need to be thinking about the opportunities those new builds present. So there has to be new work done thinking that through.”
Collating vast amounts of data
In order to manage this vast amount of information, the Taskforce built a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database where it can enter all of its information – both past and present. A dedicated team maps all of the outputs produced and layers them, creating sophisticated, interactive resources to guide decision-making.
All existing data sets across government; detailed data from relevant agencies; environmental assessment work, terrestrial work; and the 25 supply chain options have all been mapped and catalogued into this database.
“The other critical part is the trade forecasting work we’ve done, because that’s really the growth factor that we need to consider in terms of timing,” Ms Lockwood said.
“When do we need new infrastructure? So that’s also a component of what they’ve created.”
In this way, the second stage of multi-criteria assessments of the five shortlisted options will involve two parallel processes – both analytically, crunching numbers and data, and also spatially, mapping the outputs. This will allow the Taskforce to test a given set of questions and then test it using the database.
“When we finish, we will be able to hand this database to government and it’s got everything built in,” Ms Lockwood said.
“This means that if the work needs to store for a little while, or if there’s a change in economic circumstances, we’ve not lost all of that work, and it’s actually refreshed a lot of things that have been buried over a long period of time.”
It also means that as the trade forecasting changes, the WA Government can continue to update the database to understand exactly what the changes mean for trigger points.
This spatial database will also be updatable into the future. The detailed modelling that will need to be done beyond 2019 – road modelling, environmental impact assessment work and so on – could be built into the platform.
Finding the best way to guide change
“Change is inevitable,” Ms Lockwood said.
“Doing nothing is not an option; there is the requirement to build new infrastructure, as well as optimising what we have. What we’re trying to ensure is that we get the balance right between any new impacts and maintaining amenity.
“I think Perth and Southwest Australia are at a tipping point, where we’re growing to the size of some of the larger cities around the world and that means a different way of living. People’s expectations need to change about what’s realistic if they want to continue to receive the services that they expect – particularly around things like online shopping and other current trends.
“The way we want to live our lives has a cost associated with it, and that may mean a slightly different way of running our freight sector than people have seen in the past.”
The ultimate aim of the Westport Strategy is to ensure its final recommendation to the WA Government will be the best option for the state, and safeguard quality of life for decades to come.
Featured image: Kwinana Bulk Jetty. Credit: Fremantle Ports.