Todd Niall 15:50, Nov 22 2019
The chief executive of Auckland’s port company has broken his silence and joined a public war of words over the case being promoted to shift the port to Northland.
Tony Gibson has described arguments being promoted by Wayne Brown, the chair of a government-funded working party, as a “jumble of made-up ‘facts'”.
Brown chaired the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy (UNISCS) group, being driven by New Zealand First, and which recommended closing Auckland’s port and expanding Northport at Marsden Point, at an estimated cost of $10 billion.PlayMuteCurrent Time0:17/Duration Time1:32Loaded: 0%Progress: 0% FullscreenSTUFFPrime Minister Jacinda Ardern on the future of the report looking at Auckland’s Port
Gibson said he was not against an eventual move of the port from Auckland’s waterfront, “but can we at least move it somewhere sensible”.
Brown has been promoting to media, arguments in favour of the move, following the delivery to the government of the final, and still-confidential report which refines the “move” recommendation of the interim report released in October.
“This is the fifth port study in my eight years as CEO of Ports of Auckland, and, well, let’s say it’s not the best,” said Gibson.
Ports of Auckland this week released reviews it had commissioned by two consultants, which were critical of an economic analysis produced by Ernst and Young for UNISC, which had backed the move and estimated the benefits to be double the costs.
One review by NZIER said the “move” recommendation should treated “with a high degree of caution”, while Castalia argued the true extra cost of moving could be nearly four times EY’s estimate.
“In their 2016 study (for Auckland Council), EY said that Northport in Whangarei was almost the last place they’d move Auckland’s port to, yet in this recent study they say it’s the best,” said Gibson.
He disagreed with Brown’s argument that with 30 per cent of Auckland’s imports currently arriving via Port of Tauranga, they cost no more to deliver than imports that come across Auckland’s own wharves.
“That’s because Ports of Auckland is still here so if Port of Tauranga charged more than us, they wouldn’t have a business. Close Auckland’s port and watch prices rise,” said the CEO.
Stuff understands Gibson was told a week ago by Associate Transport Minister and New Zealand First MP Shane Jones – the main proponent of the “move” case – not to put his head in “a political noose” by taking part in public debate.
Jones told Stuff he was aware of differing views over EY’s work, but considered the criticism “part of the consultancy gossip chain”.
Gibson disputed Brown’s claim that the land occupied by Port of Auckland, could be worth $6 billion if freed up.
“We’re required by the Auditor General to value the port land as if it was in its ‘highest and best use’. Every time, skilled and experienced valuers say the land is worth less than a billion dollars.”
Gibson’s comments today had been provided in advance, to Ports of Auckland’s owner the Auckland Council, but the mayor Phil Goff is in Australia on leave and was not available for comment.
Goff and Brown have previously clashed publicly, over the direction of the study, and whether Auckland would be compensated if it’s port was moved.
Whether New Zealand First’s policy to re-locate the port goes beyond the completion of the UNISCS report, will depend on cabinet when it considers the report next month.
Completion of the government-funded study was part of the 2017 coalition agreement between New Zealand First and Labour.
“I am not going to make commitments beyond receiving the final report because we need to see what evidence has been compiled, and what the report tells us,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, told Stuff in October.
Stuff has been trying to confirm the authenticity of a fund-raising email sent out in the name of the New Zealand First party, which uses its policy on moving Auckland’s port as encouragement to donate.
A spokesperson for Shane Jones said the minister had no knowledge of it, and the party leader’s office referred Stuff to MP Darroch Ball, who has not responded.