Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere has proposed selling Ports of Auckland to a private company but keeping its waterfront land in public hands.
In his latest policy announcement, Tamihere today said the best way to future-proof the 77ha of prime waterfront land was to split the council-owned business from the land and go to market with the business.
Under his proposal, the new port owners would lease the land from council at a commercial rate for up to 25 years to develop an agreed exit strategy.
“The Ports must move, but exactly where it moves to will be part of ongoing discussions,” he said.
“But I have to give clarity and direction so we can all plan for the next 25 years.”
Mayor Phil Goff called his rival’s policy “bizarre”, saying it is the worst possible time to sell the port business when it has no clear future, nobody knows where it is going to move to and who will pay the cost of new infrastructure and relocation.
He was referring to a ports study set up by the Government to look at how the existing ports at Auckland, Marsden Point and Tauranga could be reconfigured to provide the best options for long-term growth.
The first of three progress reports from a working group in April suggested an inland port in west Auckland and a vehicle importing and servicing centre at Northport among a dozen potential transport investments to improve freight handling in the upper North Island.
The working group plans to report back to the Government in June with options and complete more detailed costings and recommendations in September.
“Who is going to buy the company when they don’t know where its operations will be in 10, 15, 25 years? It will be selling it at a bargain basement price,”Goff said.
Tamihere said a timely managed exit would open the Waitemata Harbour’s green footprint as well as provide a much-needed cash injection to ease ratepayers’ costs.
Other advantages would be to de-risk the costly relocation of the port, give council a financial stream from the leased land (council currently gets a dividend of about $50 million a year from the port), open up 77ha of land for ratepayers to decide its future, and establish a “transition fund” to support port workers into new jobs, he said.
Speaking to media about the policy, Tamihere did not know how much the port business could sell for, but suspected Ports of Tauranga will be “in boots and all” and interest would come form as far away as Singapore.
A Future Port Study commissioned by Auckland Council in 2016 found moving Ports of Auckland to a new “super port” in the Manukau Harbour or the Firth of Thames would cost $4 billion to $5.5b.
Tamihere said he has met major stakeholders, including port executives, the Maritime Union and transport groups to brief them on the policy. No one opposed it, he said.
He also raised the prospect of congestion charges for trucks using the port between working hours of 9am to 5pm to overcome “chronic ports traffic congestion”.
He said Auckland Transport forums and the major Ports carriers agree congestion is a major problem and are identifying ways to work through a self-regulatory system. Truckies will be in some difficulty initially but they get the transition, he said.
Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett said excluding heavy trucks from Auckland city between 9am and 5pm is lacking in strategy and planning, ridiculous and would have a negative impact on all New Zealanders.
“Mr Tamihere says the operations of the Ports of Auckland should move, but he has no idea where to. So, any move is many years away. In the interim, there seems to be this bizarre proposal to exclude heavy trucks from Auckland central business district (CBD) – where Ports of Auckland operates, between 9am and 5pm. He’s not sure what that truck exclusion will include.
“Why would you increase the costs of transporting goods in and out of New Zealand’s major city? This proposal would definitely add costs to all the goods in people’s lives that are transported by trucks – which is pretty much everything,” Leggett said.
Goff also slammed the idea of congestion charges during the day for trucks, saying the busiest time for truck movements was between 10am and 2pm outside of work hours.
“The policy is just not well thought out and totally counter-productive. It is making policy on the hoof,” he said.
Tamihere, who is mounting a serious challenge to Mayor Phil Goff’s bid for a second term, has already announced he will “shake up” the way council runs, turn Eden Park into the city’s main venue for sports and major events and sack the board of Auckland Transport.
Other mayoral candidates include businessman John Palino, who is standing for a third time, Joshua Love, John Lehmann and Craig Lord.
Lord has announced a policy to keep speedway at Western Springs and scrap plans to move cricket there. He also wants to make it easier for Eden Park to hold concerts.