Using Road Funds For Rail “highway Robbery”

The Government’s plan for “user-pays” road funding to further subsidise KiwiRail is highway robbery, Road Transport Forum (RTF) chief executive Nick Leggett says.

“The RTF opposes funding rail from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF), which is funded by road users, and we have made a submission to Parliament’s Infrastructure Select Committee considering this law change,” Leggett says.

“We believe the excessive funding planned for rail is ideologically driven, rather than based in any business reality, and we don’t believe road users should have to pay for that. It’s highway robbery.

“The Government is expecting the NLTF to cover the already depleted road and rail infrastructure from a finite revenue source, and it will be road users paying for that. As the road money gets siphoned off for rail, we expect to see even more unsafe roads.

“Despite this Government’s desire to control markets, customers decide which freight mode best suits them. The Ministry of Transport’s National Freight Demand Study 2017/18 shows demand for road freight increased by 16%, while demand for rail freight declined by 17%. This is because the advantages of road over rail are many.

“Rail’s environmental benefits over road are simply illusionary, as any level of success for rail transport is entirely dependent on truck transport. Measuring environmental performance solely on the basis of the relative performance of the truck versus train, instead of the reality of point-to-point sender to receiver, is a very narrow perspective, typically favoured by academics without any interest in economics.

“This Bill stacks up the rail track network, owned exclusively by KiwiRail, against roading infrastructure utilised by all road users, owned by the Crown and a number of road controlling authorities (RCAs).

“Road users who pay into the NLTF have no ownership rights whatsoever, but are obliged to pay prescribed fees to use and maintain roads, ensuring safety expectations are met.

“Road users are also subject to property rates for providing accessibility to the roading network. This makes the suggested funding model in this Bill inequitable for road users.

“While the Bill attempts to counter this inequity with reference to track user fees (TUCs), there is no evidence of what those TUCs might look like.

“The road freight sector does not believe TUCs are going to meet the rail programme spend, which the Government has indicated will be significant. The principal rail operator arguably has no mandate to operate on a full cost recovery basis, so this puts road freight at a disadvantage to its heavily subsidised freight competition. “We agree rail services need support to provide a service complementary to road freight, however, rail freight’s strength is in long distance transportation (over 500km) of high volumes of relatively low value products, such as coal.

“In New Zealand’s freight market, the two modes should operate as complementary, not competitive,” Leggett says.

Government to buy land for rail to Northport and Marsden Point

Charlie  Dreaver

Charlie Dreaver, Political Reportercharlie.dreaver@rnz.co.nz

The government has announced it will be buying land to build a spurline to Northport and Marsden Point and upgrading rail in the Northland region.

Railroad tracks. Railway tracks. generic

$40m has been earmarked to to purchase land along the designated route of the spur line to Northport and Marsden Point. Photo: 123RF

Today’s announcement comes as ministers are still considering the New Zealand First-backed policy of moving the bulk of Auckland’s freight operations to Northport.

State Owned Enterprises Minister Winston Peters and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones today said $109.7 million would be invested into upgrading Northland’s rail infrastructure through the Provincial Growth Fund.

They said $69.7m would be spent to lower the tracks through tunnels on the Northland Line between Swanson and Whangarei, reopening the rail line from Kauri and building a container terminal at Otiria.

Another $40m was earmarked to purchase land along the designated route of the spur line to Northport and Marsden Point.

Jones said the investment would allow KiwiRail to secure the land needed for a new rail line to Northport.

“Having this land means that when the government does make its final decision about a future port in Northland, we will be ready to get going,” he said.

Last year it was announced $95m of provincial growth funding would be used to undertake maintenance on the rail line to Whangarei.

Peters said this second phase of funding was a game changer, allowing more freight onto rail and help reduce road congestion, road maintenance costs and lower carbon emissions.

“It will also mean that modern shipping containers can be carried through the tunnels on the North Auckland Line,” he said.

Mayors back move

In a joint statement, Far North mayor John Carter, Whangarei mayor Sheryl Mai and Kaipara mayor Jason Smith welcomed the announcement.

“These are historic investments, the start of a decade-long economic transformation for Northland to make an ever-greater contribution to the prosperity of the Upper North Island and all of New Zealand,” they said.

Carter hoped today’s announcement was a sign of good things to come for Northland, and said it was now up to the mayors to tell Northlanders and those in Auckland of the benefits of moving to Northport.

“It’s an indication of the fact that we now need to do our part so that then the parliamentarians, particularly during an election year, can do their part and they know they will get the support of the people if they come up with the goods,” he said.

He said moving the Auckland’s main port to Northport would be good for not only Northland but the whole of New Zealand.

National criticises spend on rail link before port decision

National Party Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop said the government was going about it the wrong way.

“The first thing to do should be to decide if the port is going to move to Northport and then you go about creating the infrastructure to make that happen.

“Instead what New Zealand First has essentially forced on the government is spending $40 million to buy the land for a spurline to Northport, in advance of a decision being made to move the port,” he said.

Bishop said if the port did not move, the government would have spent $40 million on a line that was irrelevant.

However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it showed they were a common sense government.

“It makes sense to connect your port to rail, regardless.”

She would not say whether it signalled a move to Northport.

KiwiRail details $1b infrastructure spend

KiwiRail is already locking in suppliers and specialist services as it prepares to spend the government’s cash injection to upgrade and expand the national rail network.

The government has allocated more than $1 billion on major big rail projects over the next four years, in addition to $200m to develop rail freight services in Northland.

“It’s a good problem to have,” said KiwiRail chief operating officer capital projects David Gordon, who is responsible for coordinating the rollout of the state-owned enterprise’s many infrastructure projects over the next few years.

The four projects include the $315 million improvements to the Wiri to Quay Park corridor in Auckland, as well as construction of a third rail line; $371m to extend electrification of the Auckland metro network from Papakura to Pukekohe; and $247m to develop a railway station in the fast growing area of Drury, with two new stations at Drury East and Drury West.

The third Auckland rail line will also improve freight services between Ports of Auckland and the Port of Tauranga.

Wellington will get $211m to overhaul services and amenities on the Wellington, Wairarapa and Palmerston North network and beyond. A further $40m has been allocated for a new freight hub at Palmerston North.

Gordon said KiwiRail had hit the ground running and was ready to meet the considerable challenge ahead, with contractors in place and training and apprenticeship programmes under way.

“(It is) undoubtedly a challenge, but clearly a good one to have,” he said.

“If this had suddenly sort of been dropped on us out of the sky, you’d think how on earth would you do this, but we’ve building to(wards) this for awhile.”

He said the projects would create direct and indirect employment for hundreds of people, with many of them to be employed by KiwiRail’s contractors.

“We are the contractor of contractors, so a lot of the work is done for us by third parties,” Gordon said.

“We’ve been locking down contracts with some key suppliers for quite a time.”

Cabinet ministers want more homework done on port relocation

Shane Jones is keen to avoid too many more lengthy reports but acknowledges it’s a once-in-a-generation project and widespread buy-in is important. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller.

Cabinet ministers have ordered more work to be done on the Northport proposal, to report back to Cabinet mid next year.

It’s officially released the report of the working group set up to consider the best configuration for the upper North Island ports, which came back with a strong recommendation to progressively move Auckland’s freight operations to Northland.

The Transport Ministry will now do more work on funding and financing options, governance and commercial considerations, land use planning and a range of other factors.

(Read the full report: PDF 1.4MB)

The Cabinet paper released alongside the report said the “key issue” for ministers was “whether the the potential gain… is sufficient to justify the significant Crown seed investment and possible need for regulatory and legislative intervention”.

Using the latter approach, it said, would result in “significant levers to use given the implications for private property rights”.

The working group made its one recommendations after considering eight scenarios – Cabinet ministers also want the ministry to also take another look at those scenarios.

(Read the full report: PDF 1.1MB)

The paper noted the “limited share of decision making rights” held by the Crown if it comes to relocating ports, and the importance of getting key stakeholders such as the Ports of Auckland and the Auckland Council on board.

“We advocate early and open engagement with the owners of the current upper North Island ports…and the Port Companies” to build consensus, the paper said.

The current owners are “cornerstone partners whose agreement and cooperation in any decision will be a requirement of making progress”.

It acknowledged engagement with those parties had been “limited to date…we anticipate aligning the partners will take some time to achieve”.

The ministry will also work with the newly formed Infrastructure Commission to help with the analysis.

Associate Transport Minister and chief cheerleader Shane Jones said he was “pleased” his Cabinet colleagues have “recognised the merit of this report and have agreed to move forward with this work”.

“I expect this analysis to consider environmental effects, including on New Zealand’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, and consideration of government infrastructure investments in roads and rail, for example, building a rail spur to Marsden Point,” he said.

“Nobody is keen on spending too much longer developing lengthy reports but this is a once-in-a-generation project and widespread buy-in is important, as is the need to make the best decisions for the long-term prosperity of our supply chain.”

It remained his view that Northport was “the most sensible relocation option” but he accepted this “is a whole-of-government decision”.

The working group has estimated the cost of the Northport proposal at around $10 billion.

Cabinet expects a report back by May next year. The report has a budget of $2 million.

Goff says compensation essential

Auckland’s Mayor Phil Goff says the city’s residents will need compensation when the port is eventually relocated.

Goff said a newly released working group report on the Northport proposal suggests Auckland is left with the land rather than being bought out.

He said residents have invested over $600m in the port and should be treated as shareholders.

“They need to get some sort of compensation if that asset were to get taken off them and that’s basically what Treasury and the Ministry of Transport have pointed towards,” Goff said.

“This isn’t the wild west, you can’t go around nationalising things and saying: ‘well, just be grateful we’ve left you the land even if we’ve taken the value of the company off it’.”

Goff said he was pleased Cabinet ministers have ordered more work to be done on the Northport proposal.

“What we wanted was evidence driven, robust and independent of any vested interest group report saying how it should happen and where it should go to,” he said.

‘Pie in the sky’ – Bridges

National’s leader Simon Bridges said the $10b price would be a big hit on the government’s books.

“If they make this decision they won’t have a single bean left from their infrastructure spend up; they can only spend this borrowed money once.”

And he questioned the government’s ability to make Northport a reality.

“These guys can’t deliver, they are unrealistic, they’re pie in the sky, they come up with a lot of stuff. They’re always short on the implementation and the delivery – this thing is fraught with issues.”

Northport wants to talk to two other ports

Northport said it is ready to meet with Ports of Auckland and Port of Tauranga to discuss the future of freight for the North Island.

In a statement, its chairman Murray Jagger said a newly released working group report on the Northport proposal gives it confidence to talk about the potential opportunities.

Mr Jagger said the three ports need to digest the ramifications of the report and discuss the situation together.

“Northport has a very clear vision of the role it can play in the economic growth of Northland, Auckland and New Zealand,” he said.

“Significant growth is possible here. We have been clear for many years that we stand ready to assist in any way we can to support Auckland’s growth and the aspirations that Aucklanders have for their waterfront.”

Mr Jagger said he hoped to convene a meeting of the chairs of all three ports involved – Northport, Port of Tauranga and Ports of Auckland.

“We need to digest the ramifications of what we’ve seen and heard today, and flesh out a win-win-win situation not just for our three communities, but for all of New Zealand,” he said.

“We then need to seek the input of tangata whenua, our wider communities, and business and civic leadership before bringing these suggestions to government.”

Ports of Auckland has declined an interview with RNZ.

KiwiRail investment through Land Transport fund: government proposal ‘historic’ – chief exec

The government is moving to fast-track billions in funding for rail investments in a change that is being hailed as historic.

Freight Train, Reid McNaught

A new style of funding will allow KiwiRail to plan for long-term investments, the state owned enterprise’s chief executive says. Photo: KiwiRail

The state-owned enterprise’s funding is usually approved annually by the Crown, but the government yesterday released a draft rail plan that will prioritise new trains, tracks and bridges across the country by funding KiwiRail’s budget through the National Land Transport Fund.

KiwiRail Group chief executive Greg Miller.

Greg Miller Photo: Supplied / KiwiRail

KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller said this would allow the company to plan for long-term investments – including upgrades to national freight rail and passenger rail in Wellington and Auckland – rather than relying on year-to-year funding from the Budget.

“This is an historic change in the way rail is treated in New Zealand,” he said.

“Each year we go cap in hand to the government for capital projects to develop our nationwide rail network of 3500 kilometres and as you can appreciate with the inclemency we’ve just seen in the South Island, our network was cut off in three parts of the South Island and it takes capital to fix that.”

Flooding across paddocks.

Recent flooding in the South Island that cut the rail network in three places requires the kind of money for repairs that may be more readily available in a new style of funding, the state owned enteprise’s chief executive says. Photo: Supplied/Peter Lyttle

He is hopeful the plan will make the state-owned enterprise more independent.

Other priorities under the draft plan include a new train control centre for Auckland, replacing the two interislander ferries and ageing rail locomotives and wagons. Safety at level crossings, where two people died last week after being hit by trains in Auckland, will also be improved.

The plan is subject to feedback and changes and the government will need to pass the associated Land Transport Legislation Bill, which has its first reading before parliament next week.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said upgraded rail would boost productivity, and reduce road congestion and net greenhouse gas emissions.

Nation ‘$1b poorer’ if port leaves Auckland

With a working group’s third report on Port of Auckland’s future not available to the public, others are pushing ahead with their own analysis, Dileepa Fonseka reports.

A third port study will go before a Cabinet committee on Wednesday but on Tuesday Finance Minister Grant Robertson gave a clear indication it wouldn’t be enough on its own to persuade him to support moving Auckland’s port to Northland.

“The report’s a useful contribution, but as I’ve said to you previously, I’ve got further questions I want answered.”

“This is a massive, massive move we’re talking about here. So you know, we’ll go through the process, but we haven’t made a decision to do it.”

Meanwhile another report into the future of Auckland’s port has been released. 

The NZEIR report calculates New Zealand would be $1b poorer if the Port of Auckland’s functions were taken up by either Northport or Tauranga. 

“Auckland is both the largest source of import demand in New Zealand, and the largest concentration of commercial activity,” says the report.

“An equally profitable port elsewhere, employing the same number of people, would have a similar direct effect on its local economy, but its wider economic effect would depend on how efficiently their customers’ exports and imports moved from the port to their doors.”

The use of diesel trains to transport goods from Northport to Auckland would emit 121,461 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. 

“Longer and more frequent road or rail trips would be required to bring imports to their ultimate destination or to the port for exporting.”

Most of the costs of relocating the port would be borne by Auckland in terms of reduced consumption, higher prices, and longer wait times for freight. 

People and businesses in New Zealand’s largest city would see the cost of their imports go up by $549m if port operations moved to Northland or $626m if port operations moved to Tauranga, the report says. 

But the rest of the country would see the cost of their imports go down if the port’s business was taken up by Port of Tauranga or Northport.

Economist Laurence Kubiak, who authored the report, said this was because other ports, like Centreport in Wellington for example, would import more and goods would have to travel a shorter distance to get to consumers in those areas. 

Anticipating the report’s release 

Both Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones and Upper North Island Supply working group chair Wayne Brown told Newsroom last week they were looking forward to a possible release of the full report this week after Cabinet deliberations.

After details of the report leaked, Auckland’s Mayor Phil Goff has bristled at its reported suggestion POAL could be taken off Auckland Council with only waterfront space as compensation, and Jones has called POAL CEO Tony Gibson a “recreant” – cowardly renegade – after details emerged that Jones warned Gibson not to put his head in a “political noose” by going up against NZ First on the port issue. 

Others have expressed concern at the mode shift that would be required from shippers of freight – who have been favouring trucks in greater numbers – in order to make a Northport option work. 

Supporters have lined up behind moving the port from its current location in Central Auckland too. 

RNZ reported former Prime Ministers John Key and Helen Clark were backing a “Waterfront 2029” to get rid of POAL and The New Zealand Herald reported National MP Nikki Kaye had expressed a preference for moving the port but wanted to explore a number of options including the Firth of Thames.

Andrew Dickens: Ports of Auckland debate misses the point

Andrew Dickens, Publish Date Wed, 27 Nov 2019, 9:49AM

Photo / NZ Herald
Photo / NZ Herald

Moving the Ports of Auckland is a no-brainer, it’s just a pity that all the discussion so far has no brain and based on the wrong things.

On Tuesday Northland Regional Council’s new chairwoman Penny Smart said relocating Auckland’s port to Northport at Marsden Point will bring strong economic benefit for the region.

No kidding Sherlock. If we just upped the port to Northland then Northland will win even if the idea is a total economic disaster for New Zealand Inc and the entire import/export sector. It also reeks of the limited thinking that all we have to do is just up the port and move it.

This followed the launch of a social media campaign on Monday which gathered the support of Helen Clark and John Key. Mr Key said it was a sensible idea to move the port to Northland while Ms Clark wombled on about the waterfront for the people. Trevor Mallard hopped on the bus as well

If I was a bitchy man I’d say that Mr Key lives in the suburb beside the port, Ms Clark lives beside a football stadium she like to see on the waterfront and Mr Mallard is the guy who first thought of the stadium on the port land. Of course they want it gone. None of their statements were enough to convince me to move to Marsden.

Then we get Mayor Phil Goff on Tuesday saying he wants the Port moved so the people of Auckland can get access to the waterfront. Again not good enough a reason.

Then we’ve got all the people who chant the waterfront should not be a carpark due to the used car import business. Which is true but the least of New Zealand’s problem with this port. The hub of the problem lies to the East of the cars with a port whose size and scale dwarfs the import of 250,000 cars a year.

The Fergusson Container Terminal is Australasia’s third biggest. Reclamation began in the 60s and it cranked up in the 70s. It’s hit expansion capacity in just 50 years. Someone then should’ve known better. It’s a 4 lane Harbour Bridge scenario all over again.

The container port handles 60% of New Zealand’s imports and 40% of its exports. Half of our economy is tied up in that expanse of concrete and as the country grows it’s capacity relatively shrinks. So much so that the Port will be at full capacity in just a few years.

There’s only one reason why we have to move the Port. It’s TOO SMALL. When it’s full half our economy will start to fail. Why do I hear no-one talking about that?

The Northport cheerleaders are doing a terrible job. Slyly ignoring the costs other than just building some wharves and a spur line. Ignoring the transition costs on road and rail links and inland ports and cross Auckland freight avenues.  Ignoring the infrastructure construction capacity constraints. 

Ignoring Whangarei’s capacity to absorb the growth.

Auckland’s port affects a third of the city’s economy. 600 people are employed directly but 200,000 other jobs are directly tied to the port.

Ready for those people to move north, Whangarei?  Got the houses, schools and health care facilities? And the water and waste infrastructure?

Meanwhile Auckland, are you ready to lose this bedrock of your economy?

The only people who have made any sense in this whole thing so far are Steven Joyce and the Government who realise this is a holistic, nationally critical decision with implications for every part of our economy and our infrastructure and our national investment for the next half a century and beyond.

This whole thing is way above the pay grade of some local body politicians, anyone from New Zealand First who have too much skin in the game, same for CEOs of port companies, activists and former politician’s who want to meddle.

Meanwhile what would I start doing tomorrow?

For me the first thing to do is to get a dedicated rail line from the port to the inland facility in Wiri to get as many containers and cars off the wharves as soon as possible to extend the port’s life while we make a transition.

But here’s the thing on that. The only route is Hobson Bay. The home of the Remuera Nimby.

This is a monumental cock up 60 years in the making.

David Farrar: My stance on Ports of Auckland

I have long been of the view that using prime waterfront land in both Auckland and Wellington as an industrial port is not in the best interests of either city.

It was logical for the ports to be there scores of years ago as back then there was no other significant use of waterfront areas. But today in modern cities waterfront areas adjacent to the CBD are the most highly sought after areas for restaurants, bars, hotels and recreation spaces.

So I support the Ports of Auckland moving from its current location.

But that doesn’t mean politicians deciding where it should move to and/or closing it down in favour of other ports.

What I would support is the Auckland Council splitting the land and operations of the Port Company in two. They take back the land and lease it to the Ports of Auckland for say a final 20 year term. Maybe 15, maybe 25. The key thing is you have a definite deadline for the Port to move.

This is a decision that Auckland Council should make. Firstly because they own Ports of Auckland and have property rights over it. They should not be legislated over by central Government. Secondly because as the governing body of Auckland they have an interest in turning the waterfront land into something more exciting.

So that is all that needs to and should happen. Then Ports of Auckland will make commercial decisions about what to do – ranging from a new operation in Firth of Thames to working with the Whangarei or Tauranga ports.

But what the Government should not do is commit the taxpayer to $10 billion spending in order to help Shane Jones win a seat by declaring it will move to Whangarei.

I am very dubious that Whangarei can go from one container ship a week to 10 ships a week. Even if it could, it is highly doubtful ship companies would choose to use it over Tauranga. And you can’t even be sensible about Whangarei unless you commit to four laning SH1 up there.

Also Politik makes the point that shipping companies want to use ports that can balance export and import loads. So the talk of Whangarei is desperate stuff to try and win Jones a seat.

If the Government decides it can dictate what happens, it could end in disaster. Our exporters and importers could face huge delays and costs.

So by all means Auckland Council should set a deadline for Ports of Auckland to move from the waterfront. There is better use for that land. But it should be the ports companies working with exporters and importers who decide on future locations, not Phil Twyford and Shane Jones.

Steven Joyce: Plan to move port north to Whangārei just doesn’t stack up

Steven Joyce05:00, Nov 24 2019

OPINION: The case for moving the Auckland port to Whangārei is apparently compelling. So compelling in fact that none of us are yet allowed to see it.

The final report of three in what appears to be a very long softening up exercise was received by the Government around a fortnight ago – and it won’t be released until Cabinet has decided on it. In the meantime we’ve been treated to a round of name calling. The study’s lead author is reportedly calling people who disagree with him ‘idiots’ and ‘vested interests’, while chief lobbyist for the idea, Shane Jones, labels the current port CEO a cowardly renegade.

Respected economists NZIER and Castalia have provided critiques of the proposal, based on the earlier reports. While funded by the current port (cue vested interests attack), they highlight many useful questions like the vulnerability of the proposed new land transport corridors, the big increase in transport emissions caused by the shift, and the true costs involved (over $10 billion).

Northport, near Whangārei, could be set for expansion if plans to move Auckland port activity to the northern city.
SUPPLIED Northport, near Whangārei, could be set for expansion if plans to move Auckland port activity to the northern city.

They rightly ask why Whangarei is the favoured location now when just three years ago it ranked 12th most suitable, according to the last port study that used the same set of consultants.

More basically there is a straightforward reason why we shouldn’t attempt to shift Auckland’s port to Whangārei, and that is geography. It is simply the wrong location.

Firstly, it is too far away. The whole point of ports in port cities is to unload and load the freight close to the action, to reduce land transport costs and delays. Much of the freight that comes across the current port is utilised within 20km of it, much of that south of the Waitemata. Being close makes sense. Berthing it hours away and freighting it in by truck and train doesn’t.

Yes, Sydney and Melbourne shifted their ports, but nothing like as far. Sydney’s container port at Port Botany is 15 kilometres from their CBD. Melbourne’s container terminal is 8km from the CBD. If this project went ahead, Auckland’s port would be over 150km from the CBD.

The second geographic problem is the shape of Auckland city. It is built on a narrow piece of land just a few kilometres wide, hemmed in by two beautiful harbours which, as Aucklanders know, already make it hard to get to work each day.

Imagine instead of all the freight landing by sea near the middle of the city and radiating out from there – you land it out the opposite side of the city from where most people live and work and then use trucks and trains to freight it back down from the north and through the narrow isthmus across already over-worked land transport corridors to places like Onehunga, Wiri, and further south.

We would experience a whole new level of road and rail congestion in the north and west, and no reduction in the centre or south.

The third geographic issue relates to the area south of Auckland. Fully half of New Zealand’s population (roughly 2½ million) lives north of Taupō, around a million outside of Auckland. Only 180,000 of those live in Northland. Currently businesses serving the upper North Island have the choice of two ports each roughly 120km from Hamilton, and competition helps keep freight prices reasonable.

Shifting one of them 150km further away over the other side of Auckland would effectively reduce their options to one, and undoubtedly increase their costs.

It simply makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to reduce the competitiveness of Auckland and the upper North Island in this way.

Northland definitely needs infrastructure investment. It was shamefully ignored for decades. The last government started with the four-laning of State Highway 1 to Warkworth (under construction) and Wellsford (currently abandoned). There was the much-maligned replacement of one-way bridges – four of which have been or are being built, and upgrades to the highways north of Whangārei.

The infrastructure required in Northland doesn’t rely on the excuse of an ill-conceived plan to shift Auckland’s port. The most significant project, the four-laning of State Highway 1 to Whangārei needs to happen anyway, especially through the vulnerable choke points of Dome Valley and Te Hana. Building that over the next 10 years would unlock massive development opportunities for all of Northland, just as the Waikato Expressway has done for its region.

So I have a suggestion. Let’s re-start the Northland expressway project and maybe even start shifting the Navy up to Whangārei (which has far fewer ramifications for the wider economy). Let’s build the third main railway line at Wiri, sort out the Grafton interchange with the current port, and crack on with a third harbour crossing. Then come back and talk about the port again in a decade’s time. There is a lot to get on with now without this hugely expensive poorly argued diversion.

Steven Joyce is a former minister in the last National government.
STUFFSteven Joyce is a former minister in the last National government.

Jones calls Port CEO ‘cowardly renegade’

Please note – Cubic does not support Mr Jones’ comments, or the proposal to move the port to Northport.

Shane Jones has called the Port of Auckland’s CEO a ‘cowardly renegade’ over the Port’s lobbying against New Zealand First’s plan to shift the port to Northland. Dileepa Fonseka also reports on the pros and cons of instead building a mega-port in the Firth of Thames.

Trucking industry leaders, infrastructure planners and port operators want an evidence-based debate on the upper North Island’s port strategy and are concerned the official study has focused on New Zealand First’s preferred option of moving the Port of Auckland to Northland. Instead, they want the idea of a new ‘greenfields’ port at the Firth of Thames considered for the long-term. 

Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson told Newsroom New Zealand Inc should consider a new “mega-port” if it truly believes Auckland is not big enough to handle future freight growth.

But Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones is having none of it, and has instead ramped up his personal attacks on Gibson and threatened to take his complaints to Gibson’s board.

“To privatise the Firth of Thames and build a Singaporean-style port out there you need the mandate of the people,” Jones told Newsroom.

“The Ports of Auckland can’t even get a mandate from the majority of Auckland’s,” he said.

Singapore Port: Jones says a “Singaporean-style” port in the Firth of Thames isn’t feasible. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Gibson said he wanted to correct “mistruths” in the port debate.

“What we’ve advocated all along is as New Zealanders, as New Zealand Inc, we want the most cost-effective productive supply chain – and that’s not Northland.”

A number of economists and consultants, some commissioned by Ports of Auckland (POAL), have questioned the conclusion of an Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy (UNISCS) report making its way through cabinet. 

“If the evidence is there and you follow the process that is best practice then we would absolutely support good well-founded investment decisions.”

The report concludes the government should get POAL to give up its central city port site and invest close to $10 billion prepping Northport to take its place.

Road Transport Chief Executive Nick Leggett thinks the working group asked the wrong question with its study and said the Northport move was a “solution looking for a problem”, while Infometrics economist Brad Olsen believed the port debate showed the need for an overall infrastructure strategy with less “cherry-picking” of individual projects. 

But Infrastructure NZ CEO Paul Blair, who questions the analysis in the port report, said Northport was “the better of the options on a prima facie basis”.

“If the evidence is there and you follow the process that is best practice then we would absolutely support good well-founded investment decisions.”

Mega port versus Northport

In a world of 3D printing and sensitivity around emissions Gibson said there was every possibility freight loads would experience low growth.

New Zealand needed to plan for a number of “freight futures,” including one where its freight load increased. 

In such a scenario he said the option of building a “mega port” in the Firth of Thames could fill that gap – in 30 or 40 years time. 

“We need to take a much, much longer-term approach.”

Nick Leggett says New Zealand too quickly jumps to specific projects before asking what’s needed. Photo: John Sefton

A Firth of Thames port would be located close to Auckland – the port’s consumers – and not that different to the Northport option in cost, Gibson said.

It’s a view at odds with UNISCS chairman Wayne Brown’s own view. He said the latest report had examined the Firth of Thames option, but found too many infrastructure costs associated with it.

“This is why New Zealand gets caught in this infrastructure predicament because we jump to specifics and locations and projects before we ask what’s needed.”

Jones agreed and said a “Singaporean-style” mega port in the Firth of Thames would need a much larger government investment than Northport would. 

However, Jones said he accepted concerns Twyford and Robertson had raised that more analysis than UNISCS’ current set of reports were needed.

“We’ve got at least a year to do that.”

Leggett questioned whether a port move in either direction was needed at all.

“This is why New Zealand gets caught in this infrastructure predicament because we jump to specifics and locations and projects before we ask what’s needed.”

Even rail upgrades to Northport – which Brown said should go ahead immediately – might not be justified if you looked at the greatest rail infrastructure needs of New Zealand as a whole, Leggett said.

“I don’t think this is where you would start that, you would be improving the main [rail] trunk line between Auckland and Wellington.”

War of words

Jones accused Gibson of being an “anti-NZ First CEO” who had gone “totally renegade” with his actions around the port study.

“When our caucus meets I will seek their mandate to demand an explanation from their [POAL’s] board as to why they have mandated this recreant to show such animus towards New Zealand First,” he said.

A ‘recreant’ is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as someone who is cowardly or a deserter.

Leggett said there wasn’t a place for “threats or intimidation” in an infrastructure debate:

“It flies in the face of what is needed: evidence, data and asking what’s best for the greatest number of people.”

“What I explained was I’m not entering a political debate, I’m entering a practical debate.”

The stoush started at a meeting in Minister Grant Robertson’s office last week where Jones warned Gibson off venturing into politics.

Gibson said that meeting began with him asking why there were differences between conclusions reached from a first Ernst & Young report – which had ranked Northport 12th – and moved on to allegations from Gibson that UNISCS had moved away from its terms of reference. 

“What I explained was I’m not entering a political debate, I’m entering a practical debate.”

Gibson said the UNISCS was a “missed opportunity” to look at the supply chain as a whole. 

“I can’t understand why this recreant would believe that our Cabinet ministers wouldn’t skilfully work through these unresolved issues.”

“What NZ Inc deserves is a supply chain and a supply chain based on cold, hard facts based on a proper business case,” he said. 

Jones said it was always understood that more work would need to be done on the reports making their way through cabinet. 

“I can’t understand why this recreant would believe that our Cabinet ministers wouldn’t skilfully work through these unresolved issues.”

“Those are decisions made by politicians they’re not made by unelected renegade CEOs.”

Olsen said infrastructure decisions for the nation should fall somewhere between a purely technical analysis and a political call.

This was especially true in the ports debate where he said you could “make the numbers talk whichever way you want” at this stage.

“I don’t think we can have a purely technically-driven evaluation of infrastructure…where the balance needs to be is that we need to be able to pick ideas that are well integrated,” Olsen said.

“At the end of the day the public have charged politicians with the ability to spend public money.”