A FOOD, agribusiness and technology-focused precinct proposed at Nambeelup, near Mandurah, is attracting international and local interest.
The Peel Business Park concept aims to create a strategic commercial hub around the rapid growth of technology in all aspects of horticulture, agriculture and food production and has fired imaginations.
It garnered a mention in an opinion piece on technology-enabled smart farming in The Business Times newspaper, Singapore, earlier this month, despite stage one being, on the ground at least, a billboard on vacant paddocks owned by LandCorp.
Foreign governments are interested.
Murdoch University has indicated an interest in being involved, adding a potential research and education element, and the business park may ultimately have a role in a long-term solution to the State’s shrinking dairy industry problems.
Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan, who is also Regional Development Minister, told a recent dairy industry dinner she was considering proposals that may involve growing the industry to enable value-added products to be produced to relieve seasonal pressure on fresh milk production.
It is understood one of the international expressions of interest for stage one of Peel Business Park is from a dairy processer looking at the feasibility of establishing a local plant.
Phil Melville and Warwick Irvine of real estate and property investment group CBRE have been appointed by LandCorp to seek industry, investor and development interest in stage one – a 120 hectare site on the corner of Lakes and Gull roads, 10 kilometres north-east of Mandurah in the Murray Shire.
Their job in this “consulting phase”, according to Mr Melville last week, is to assess expressions of interest and advise LandCorp on the types of business likely to relocate or establish there and the services they will require.
Their input will help shape what stage one will look like.
The precinct is well served with water and power, along with trunk sewer and a gas pipeline nearby.
Lakes Road is proposed to be upgraded to a four-lane access to Kwinana Freeway and from there to Kwinana, Fremantle and Bunbury ports.
North-south Gull and Paterson Roads are also proposed to be upgraded to four lanes.
Extending Tonkin Highway south to connect with South Western Highway near Pinjarra – shown on Department of Planning WA south metropolitan and Peel Region planning framework maps – would put Perth airport within easy reach.
But a critical factor, Mr Melville said, would be availability of the latest telecommunications technologies.
“Communications will be a first criteria,” he said.
“Real time communication will be an obvious requirement of any technology company looking at this site.”
Mr Melville has been liaising with technology parks overseas as part of the consulting phase.
He said interest in stage one from corporations and foreign governments highlighted the project’s “global appeal”.
“There is a strong bias toward attracting agribusiness-related industry to the business park, with the initial consultation phase generating interest from potential investors focused on renewable energy, water treatment, desalination, robotics-automation-communication , processing and research,” Mr Melville said.
Its connection on three sides to the proposed Peel Food Zone’s intensive horticulture and agriculture made it an “ideal location”, he said, for research establishments and a potential specialist university campus.
Mr Melville said it might be possible for stage one land titles to be released “mid 2018”.
Current zoning was rural but the Western Australian Planning Commission has published a Nambeelup Industrial Area District Structure Plan which could be a basis of amendments to the Murray shire, Peel region and metropolitan planning schemes to facilitate the types of development envisaged.
Stage one was announced by then premier Colin Barnett in April last year.
It is towards the centre of 1000 hectares proposed as Peel Business Park between Kwinana Freeway in the west and Nambeelup Road in the east.
A creek line is its southern boundary and an existing cluster of rural industries, including Wandalup piggery and a recycling business turning organic waste into commercial soil conditioner, is towards its northern boundary.
The full business park area encompasses Royal Aero Club of WA’s Murrayfield Airport and 32 properties, each about 2ha, in the Nambeelup Kennel Estate.
The airport is proposed to be retained and the district structure plan indicates the Kennel Estate is the last area proposed to be developed.
A southern portion of the site is already zoned for industry and about a quarter is owned by George Weston Foods Ltd, one of Australia’s biggest food manufacturers and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Associated British Foods which operates in 46 countries.
Water Corporation is a significant neighbour on the eastern side and another neighbour is the former Mandurah exporting abattoir which was closed and sold by receivers in 2006.
Stage one of the business park will be the first visible presence of a much grander and visionary Transform Peel project which has so far attracted “activation funding” of $49.3 million from Royalties for Regions.
Transform Peel has been put together by Peel Development Commission in conjunction with various government departments.
Over a projected 35-year time-frame the three-component project aims to secure Perth’s food production area through the Peel Food Zone and provide year-round water supply for agriculture while improving and protecting Peel Inlet-Harvey Estuary water quality by limiting nutrient run off.
LandCorp is in charge of the Peel Business Park component, the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) in charge of the food zone component and the Department of Water in control of the Peel Integrated Water initiative to map water resources and research innovative methods of water catchment and storage.
In December Peel Development Commission chairman Paul Fitzpatrick confirmed a Singaporean delegation was hosted “with a view to investment in the Peel Food Zone”.
In a community update last month, Transform Peel program management said the designated Peel Food Zone had grown from an initial 28,000ha to 40,000ha since “detailed scoping” had started.
Program management said DAFWA was considering six agricultural development “scenarios” and mapping out appropriate areas within the proposed food zone according to soil types.
The six scenarios are perennial horticulture such as grapes and fruit, irrigated in-ground annual horticulture such as vegetables, closed system hydroponic glasshouses, covered annual horticulture such as strawberries in tunnel houses, dry land pasture for grazing and intensive closed system animal production such as poultry.
Peel Business Park is being marketed as the “gateway” to the food zone development but Mr Melville said it had, in his opinion, far wider implications, not just in serving other geographical regions such as the South West and eastern Great Southern.
He said the project was a major opportunity for WA’s agribusinesses, along with supporting industries such as logistics, cool stores and packaging, to create an industry “hub”.
“The agribusiness sector is on the brink of being revolutionised by technology, with significant advancements in real-time technology positioned to minimise resourcing and maximise output,’’ he said.
“Technology will be the cornerstone of boosting WA’s agricultural output and the Peel Business Park will be instrumental in helping achieve that.
“With the appointment of new Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan, along with significant and strategic investments made by high profile investors in the agribusiness sector, there is a lot of confidence and support being shown with capital flowing into the industry.
“This precinct will attract direct investment into the State’s agribusiness sector by facilitating new technological advancements that will significantly improve efficiencies in the industry–- setting new benchmarks at a State and national level,” Mr Melville said.