Freight company CEO says Manukau Harbour ‘wouldn’t work’ as a Ports of Auckland replacement

A top freight executive says no shipping company would choose Manukau Harbour as a potential new destination for an Auckland port.

A report by economic consultancy Sapere published yesterday ranked Manukau Harbour as the best option. It considered Northport, Manukau, the Firth of Thames, the Port of Tauranga and a shared increase in capacity at both Northport and the Port of Tauranga.

An earlier report, backed by New Zealand First, identified Northport at Marsden Point as the best option. The report was completed by a Government working group led by former Far North mayor Wayne Brown.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff called the previous Northport work “shoddy” and Transport Minister Phil Twyford said it “had a clearly predetermined outcome” in favour of moving the port to Marsden Point.

New Zealand First still backs Northport as a new location, with MP Shane Jones saying Manukau was the most treacherous harbour in the country and unfit as an alternative site for Ports of Auckland.

Carr and Haslam director Chris Carr said he didn’t know how the Sapere report had come up with Manukau Harbour.

“It’s probably about the only time in the world I’ll ever agree with Shane Jones,” Carr told told Morning Report.

“The prevailing weather comes in on the western side of the country. Ports don’t exist in the west coast of New Zealand, they exist on the east coast.

“I’m no maritime person but all the shipping companies say that they won’t go to the west coast and that in itself would tend to make Manukau the first shipless port that we’d have in the country.

“It’s simply not suitable operationally and it wouldn’t work no matter how much we might try and make it fit.”

If the port had to be moved from Auckland it should be to somewhere ships can get in and out safely, he said.

“You also want to go somewhere near the largest consumption area which is the Auckland-Tauranga-Hamilton-Waikato area.

“The only place you can do that is the Firth of Thames. It’s not ideal.”

He agreed with the Sapere report that Ports of Auckland could keep operating for more than 30 years before it ran out of space where it was.

“But New Zealand’s not good at doing this sort of stuff and we take so long to do it that we need to start working at it and looking at it.

“If you look at it from a logistical point of view, the decisions become quite easy – it’s when you get politics involved it becomes quite hard.

“The shipping companies who in the end of the day determine where their vessels come would not choose Manukau, ever.”

Shane Jones told Morning Report he had come off second best to people opposed to a relocation to Northland.

“I had professionally and personally campaigned with my leader for the expansion of Northport and relocation of Ports of Auckland activity to Tauranga and Northland,” he said.

He invoked the sinking of the Orpheus in 1863, in which 189 people died, as reason to not build a port at Manukau Harbour.

“I will prophesy that a thousand years will pass before a new port will ever be located in Manukau Harbour.

“[The Sapere report] wants to take us over the bar of the most treacherous harbour in New Zealand and dredge to a level of spill that will rival Mt Cook somewhere in New Zealand or it’ll be dumped in the ocean.”

Jones said work on a new port needed to “get cracking” in 10 to 15 years.

“In New Zealand we leave too many infrastructure decisions to the last minute.”

No decision is to be made before the election, leaving it for political parties to campaign on.

Manukau Harbour ‘wouldn’t work’ as new Auckland port

Manukau Harbour would never work as a new location for Auckland’s port, transport company director Chris Carr says.Manukau Harbour

Manukau Harbour. Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

A report by economic consultancy Sapere published yesterday ranked Manukau Harbour as the best option. It considered Northport, Manukau, the Firth of Thames, the Port of Tauranga and a shared increase in capacity at both Northport and the Port of Tauranga.

An earlier report, backed by New Zealand First, identified Northport at Marsden Point as the best option. The report was completed by a government working group led by former Far North mayor Wayne Brown.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff called the previous Northport work ‘shoddy’ and Transport Minister Phil Twyford said it “had a clearly pre-determined outcome” in favour of moving the port to Marsden Point.

New Zealand First still backs Northport as a new location, with MP Shane Jones saying Manukau was the most treacherous harbour in the country and unfit as an alternative site for Ports of Auckland.

Carr and Haslam director Chris Carr said he didn’t know how the Sapere report had come up with Manukau Harbour.

“It’s probably about the only time in the world I’ll ever agree with Shane Jones,” Carr told told Morning Report.

“The prevailing weather comes in on the western side of the country. Ports don’t exist in the west coast of New Zealand, they exist on the east coast.

“I’m no maritime person but all the shipping companies say that they won’t go to the west coast and that in itself would tend to make Manukau the first shipless port that we’d have in the country.

“It’s simply not suitable operationally and it wouldn’t work no matter how much we might try and make it fit.”

If port had to be moved from Auckland it should be to somewhere ships can get in and out safely, he said.

“You also want to go somewhere near the largest consumption area which is the Auckland-Tauranga-Hamilton-Waikato area.

“The only place you can do that is the Firth of Thames. It’s not ideal.”

He agreed with the Sapere report that Ports of Auckland could keep operating for more than 30 years before it ran out of space where it was.

“But New Zealand’s not good at doing this sort of stuff and we take so long to do it that we need to start working at it and looking at it.

“If you look at it from a logistical point of view the decisions become quite easy – it’s when you get politics involved it becomes quite hard.

“The shipping companies who in the end of the day determine where their vessels come would not choose Manukau, ever.”

Shane Jones told Morning Report he had come off second best to people opposed to a relocation to Northland.

“I had professionally and personally campaigned with my leader for the expansion of Northport and relocation of Ports of Auckland activity to Tauranga and Northland,” he said.

He invoked the sinking of the Orpheus in 1863, in which 189 people died, as reason to not build a port at Manukau Harbour.

“I will prophesy that a thousand years will pass before a new port will ever be located in Manukau Harbour.

“[The Sapere report] wants to take us over the bar of the most treacherous harbour in New Zealand and dredge to a level of spill that will rival Mt Cook somewhere in New Zealand or it’ll be dumped in the ocean.”

Jones said work on a new port needed to “get cracking” in 10 to 15 years.

“In New Zealand we leave too many infrastructure decisions to the last minute.”

No decision is to be made before the election, leaving it for political parties to campaign on.

Transport lobby opposes port move north

Northport should stick to what it's already doing according to the trucking industry. Photo / Tania Whyte
Northport should stick to what it’s already doing according to the trucking industry. Photo / Tania Whyte

NZ Insights By: Imran Ali

The National Road Carriers’ Association has released a report it commissioned from TG Enterprises, which opposes shifting Ports of Auckland to Whangārei, saying it would be logistically impractical and cost-prohibitive to do so, while increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

The report, based on interviews with trucking companies and stakeholders, concluded that Auckland’s port provided the best value for money and should continue in its current location until it could not cope with future growth, which it expected would be at least 30 years away.

But those lobbying for the move to Northport, including former Far North mayor Wayne Brown and Northland Mayoral Forum chairman Jason Smith, say the argument for the status quo lacks logic.

With a focus on road freight, the report said the issue was not port location but the efficiency and safety of road (and rail) access to the upper North Island ports of Northport, Auckland and Tauranga. It said servicing customers by road freight from Northport would be nearly eight times more expensive, or more than $1 billion annually, than from Ports of Auckland.

An analysis of road freight cost showed a container truck that made five trips a day between Ports of Auckland and South Auckland for $50 would be only able to achieve one from Northport, at an estimated cost of $230.

“With Auckland’s business growth moving south, and Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty dominating the upper North Island’s economic growth, Northport is too far away,” the report said, while moving to Whangārei would add more than 125,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year for container road freight, compared with about 27,000 tonnes from Ports of Auckland to South Auckland.

That would seriously undermine New Zealand’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, it said.

“The decision to move the port from Auckland to Northport is being rushed. We need to stop. Take stock. Reassess,” the report added.

But Brown said the association had a vested interest ensuring that the port didn’t move north.

He described claims about greenhouse gas emissions, as “total and absolute crap,” saying goods transported to and from Northport by rail freight would mean less pollution and traffic congestion.

“At the moment, more stuff goes to Auckland from Tauranga, which is further away from Northport. Milk from Northland goes to Tauranga for export,” he said.

“Auckland is planning 50,000 houses in the south and 86,000 houses north of (the city). Where are the biggest new commercial businesses like IKEA and Costco going? To West Auckland, not south,” Brown said.

He led the Upper North Island Supply Chain (Unisc) working group, whose report promised an economic boom for Northland if the $10 billion port move happened.

“There’s nothing that will make Northland do better than shifting the port from Auckland,” he said.

Smith said the days of Ports of Auckland were numbered, whereas Northport offered the best deepwater port in the upper North Island.

“Everyone is aware of the growth in Waikato and further south, but the next era of growth in New Zealand will, in my view, be on the north side of Auckland,” he said.

“Ships will be getting bigger in future, and the risk for New Zealand is they won’t be able to come here. That’s where the deepwater port at Northport has an advantage.”

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones said the report was built around fear and apprehension, citing points of weakness in the state of the trucking industry.

“We’ll see more electric trucks in future, but for now we see a significant role for rail, and I think the trucking industry is churlish in not acknowledging the $700 million put aside for a four-lane highway out of Whangārei heading south,” Jones said.

Through its Provincial Growth Fund, the Government has provided $300 million for work on the existing rail line between Auckland and Whangārei.

Claims Ports of Auckland move to Whangārei is impractical just ‘snobbery’

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones has rubbished a trucking association report that says moving Ports of Auckland north would be impractical.

The recently-released report, commissioned by the National Road Carriers Association, looked at the costs and challenges for road freight of moving Ports of Auckland to Northport at Whangārei’s Marsden Point.

Such a move, expected to cost $10 billion, has been favoured by a Government-backed working party, although a final decision on the move is not expected before this year’s election.

Posts of Auckland handles about one third of the nation’s container trade and two million tonnes of general cargo (file photo).
DAVID WHITE/STUFFPosts of Auckland handles about one third of the nation’s container trade and two million tonnes of general cargo (file photo).

But the road carriers’ report said moving Auckland’s port to Northport would be logistically impractical, prohibitively expensive, increase greenhouse gas emissions and add to traffic congestion, by increasing truck trips between Northland and Auckland.

It calculated 340,000 heavy truck trips and 27,000 freight trains would be needed to carry goods from Northport to the proposed inland port at Swanson, in West Auckland, and said current road and rail is not up to scratch.

The National Road Carriers Association says 340,000 trucks and 27,000 freight trains will be needed to transport goods from Northland to Auckland if the ports move (file photo).
ROSA WOODS/STUFFThe National Road Carriers Association says 340,000 trucks and 27,000 freight trains will be needed to transport goods from Northland to Auckland if the ports move (file photo).

The report concludes Ports of Auckland should continue in its current location until it can’t handle further growth, and a super port in the Firth of Thames or Manukau Harbour should be considered as part of a 100-year plan.

But Jones said the report was part of Auckland’s “snobbery” against Tai Tokerau, by favouring a new port instead of the existing deep water port in Northland.

Building a new port in the Firth of Thames would require billions of dollars more than moving to Northport and require an act of Parliament to sign off the resource consent, he said, while using Manukau Harbour would require ships to cross “the most treacherous bar” in the country.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones says moving Ports of Auckland to Northport makes more sense than trying to build a new port in Auckland.
HAGEN HOPKINS/GETTY-IMAGESRegional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones says moving Ports of Auckland to Northport makes more sense than trying to build a new port in Auckland.

“With Ports of Auckland, there’s no free pass, so obviously I’ve always promoted further utilisation of Northport because it’s got excess capacity, it’s a natural deep access way and it’s a key feature in regional development.”

Jones said the road carriers’ report was also about the trucking industry trying to defend its own interests, which are coming under threat as New Zealand looks to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

The port move is reliant on rail and the current Government has already spent more than $200 million on upgrading the North Auckland Rail Line, including $40m to buy land for a rail spur out to Marsden Point which has now been secured, he said.

A further $700m has been allocated to build a four-lane highway south of Whangārei, Jones said.

HOUSEHOLD GOODS WILL INCREASE

But the National Road Carriers Association report has been backed by the Road Transport Forum, which said moving freight Ports of Auckland to Northport was “folly”.

Chief executive Nick Leggett said the plan made even less sense in the post-Covid environment.

“New Zealand cannot bear the brunt of the huge $10 billion upfront capital cost required to get Northport and its road and rail supply lines up to task, let alone the supply chain disruption and the five-fold increase in road transport costs that will hit the pockets of householders directly,” he said.

“All household goods, including groceries, will go up significantly if freight comes into New Zealand some 200km further away from its markets.”

FURTHER INFORMATION TO BE RELEASED

A report on the options for relocating the Ports of Auckland freight functions, undertaken by independent consultants Sapere on behalf of the Ministry of Transport, has now been provided to ministers.

A timetable for the information’s release is being finalised by the ministry but Jones would like it be released in the next 10 days.

The report comes after the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working party, headed by former Far North mayor Wayne Brown, favoured a $10b plan to shift the ports north, recommending it be done within 15 years.

But the working party’s work has been heavily criticised, with reviews saying it failed to provide a credible basis for making a decision on the move.

Cabinet wanted to see more analysis before making a decision. Jones said that decision would now become an election issue.

Conservation concerns over Northport proposal

What would shifting much of Auckland’s freight shipping operation do to Whangārei’s harbour? Conservationists say the risks are like throwing dice for the marine ecosystem.

Conservation advocates worry rerouting ships from Ports of Auckland to Whangārei’s Northport might stimulate the local economy but come at a cost to the harbour’s ecosystem.

The proposed shifting of the port is now a bottom line for New Zealand First in any possible future coalition agreement. After announcing his candidacy for the Northland electorate last week Shane Jones told TVNZ’s Q+A: “In the event that we’re back, a bottom line is definitely going to be the relocation of the Ports of Auckland to the north.”

But there’s concern from conservationists and scientists that more ships in Whangārei Harbour would mean more dredging, construction, noise pollution and potential ship strike as well as a change to water flows.

Northport chief executive Jon Moore’s response is that, unlike other ports Northport is accustomed to working with environmental rules and is the only port in the country to be built under the Resource Management Act.

“This means that all of the environmental management requirements of the RMA have been built into the port’s day-to-day operation,” he says.

Build it and they will come

While Northport may have established itself within RMA rules, compared to the Auckland’s waterfront operations it’s small fry. Currently just three ships at a time can tie up at Northport. In Auckland, depending on the size of the ships, there’s space for 11 to 13. 

The number of ship calls per year also shows the gap between what the two ports are handling at present.

In the last financial year 1318 ships called in at Ports of Auckland (POAL). Around 127 were cruise ships and a few were Navy ships, but the majority carried freight.

Northport had 304 ship calls in the same time period. The nearby refinery, which uses its own berth a short distance from Northport, had 218.

To take even some of Auckland’s ships would require a substantial expansion. 

Northport already has a resource consent to extend its 570 metre berth by 270 metres and reclaim 2.8 hectares of land but this small extension won’t come close to providing enough berths to cater for Auckland’s ship traffic.

A video on the Northport website showed potential options for expansion with six ships berthed. If completed in total this would add another 820 metres of berth extending either side of what currently exists and reclaim 25 hectares of land from the harbour. 

Given the current conversations, it’s perplexing there’s no option on Northport’s vision of the future video which shows how much the port might need to expand to cope with its current ships as well as Auckland’s freight ships.

Even to fit the depicted three more ships would mean a big change in a small harbour which conservationists say has some outstanding features. 

Also consented is deepening of the channel into the harbour. This dredging consent for 3.6 million cubic metres of sea floor is held by the oil refinery, not Northport. This is to ensure the channel is deep enough for larger ships. Newsroom understands while the work was consented in 2018 it has not yet begun.

A marine reserve sits just 650 metres from Northport and is home to seahorses, dwarf scorpionfish, octopuses and attracts predatory fish such as kingfish. The harbour also has significant shellfish beds.

There will be dredging

Based on the option shown on the video Northport’s, CEO Moore estimates it would “need to remove 1.14 million cubic metres (not a large amount as far as dredging operations go) to create a consistent depth of 14.5 metres from the western end of the berth to the eastern end” of the berths pictured. 

This is in contrast to what’s said the report of the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy Working Group published in December 2019. This was not written by Northport. It claimed while Auckland needed dredging to fit larger ships: “No such dredging is required at Northport as Suezmax ships already visit.”

Staff at POAL have estimated the dredging required in Auckland versus dredging which might be required at Northport. The estimation includes the channel dredging at Northport which the oil refinery already has consent for. For POAL the ability to dredge the channel is dependent on resource consent hearings this month.

Estimation by Ports of Auckland of potential dredging required. The 3.7 million cubic metres of channel dredging for Northport is already consented for Refinery NZ to undertake.

Local ocean ecologist Glenn Edney said the amount of dredging potentially needed to cope with Auckland’s ships as well as what is already expected in Northpoint was likely to be unprecedented in the harbour. 

The process would involve dredges suctioning sediment which has settled to the seafloor and placing it onto barges. During the process some can spill out.

“A lot of the dredging is fairly toxic. While it’s in the mud it’s trapped there and it’s relatively harmless. It’s only when it’s suspended in the water or on the surface it becomes a problem and of course that’s what dredging does,” Edney said.

Another effect of dredging is a likely change of water flow in the harbour as areas are deepened. This could affect the water flow around the marine reserve as well as the shellfish beds.

He’s sceptical of the ability of modelling to accurately predict the outcome.

“The environmental impact models will be standard models that will look at water flow and everything. Unfortunately the complexity of a dynamic living system like Whangārei Harbour defy our ability to model really accurately. We’re throwing the dice on the health of those significant shellfish beds.”

As well as water flow changes from dredging, Edney worries about the potential of silt stirred up by ship propellers. Shellfish are known for being filter feeders which can clean water, but they don’t cope well with silt suspended in water.

He said the shellfish are already struggling and there’s a rāhui on collecting them.

There’s a flow-on effect from shellfish abundance which impacts other sea life.

The shellfish attract stingrays to the harbour and females come to the harbour to give birth.

“When the stingrays are born, beautiful, cute little 25 centimetre replicas of the adult, the first thing they do is they go straight down to the sea floor in those shallow harbours and they feed on the young shellfish.”

Orca in front of Marsden Point refinery. Photo; Ingrid N. Visser

It’s a case of pipi starting a food chain. While shellfish are a tasty lunch for stingrays, the stingrays’ oil-filled livers are a tasty treat for orca.

Listed as ‘nationally critical’ by the Department of Conservation, New Zealand’s orca are at the last stop on the threat classification system before extinction. Only 150 to 200 remain.

Marine biologist Ingrid Visser is based in the area. She’s part of the Orca Research Trust and like Edney she sees the ecosystem effects as a stack of cards.

“It’s not just pick-a-species, they’re all interconnected.”

She also worries about the impact of dredging on the harbour as well as noise, pollution and the risk of boat strike.

“We know that the orca, for instance, use it [Whangārei Harbour] for socialising, for mating, for giving birth, for feeding, for sleeping. It’s critical habitat for them. People say ‘they can just go somewhere else’. Well, no. They can’t because there are very few harbours left they can go into.”

Ship strike – marine hit and runs

Another concern is the increased likelihood of ‘ship strikes’. Just like when bugs make an unfortunate connection with a travelling vehicle’s windscreen, sometimes whales and other sea creatures collide with ships. Most of the time, the far larger ships don’t even realise they’ve hit a whale. 

University of Auckland Associate Professor Rochelle Constantine explains that instead of hearing ships only when they’re close, the constant low frequency hum of ships can be heard underwater for many kilometres and the sound doesn’t get a lot louder as ships get close.

There’s a possibility this continual thrum becomes little more than background noise for sea mammals such as the Bryde’s whales she studied in the Hauraki Gulf and they tune the sound out as they go about their normal day of eating plankton.

“Our work showed that on average, just over two whales per year were being killed by ship strike. Those were just the whales that we found. So we knew there were probably more.”

Like orca, Bryde’s whale numbers are limited to the just below extinction point. Two ship strike deaths a year posed an enormous threat to the species, Constantine said.

She has worked on a voluntary protocol with the Hauraki Forum, the shipping industry including Ports of Auckland and the Environmental Defense Society.

By reducing speed to 10 knots in the Hauraki Gulf in areas whales were known to be in, the deaths stopped. Collisions probably still occur, said Constantine, but at 10 knots, they’re not as likely to be lethal. 

Since the voluntary measures were adopted by the shipping industry the last recorded death was in 2014. 

“In my ideal situation of looking at the environmental impact, the voice of the harbour would be at the table. That voice would be saying, ‘there’s too much uncertainty’.”

Constantine hopes any proposal to divert ships to Northport includes work to understand the sea life in the area.

“Before any of this occurs we would need to undertake a really good census of the habitat use in those waters coming into the Northport region to understand the main routes that ships will take into that port and then have a look and assess the risk profile.”

She said she had been involved in aerial surveys in the past up to Whangārei Heads and knows Bryder’s, blue, fin, sei, humpback, pilot and minke whales can be found in the area, as well as several dolphin species.

“It would be such a shame to undo all the hard work that’s been done over the last seven years. There are 15 whales alive today because the ships slowed down.”

Constantine also wonders about the impact of construction efforts on the harbour, saying the importance of the seabed is under-appreciated.

She said there was a difference between a localised, brief, disruption to one which is ongoing, never-ending or regular.

“Is more dredging required? Are they going to be making larger wharves that change the water flow? All these kinds of dynamics that make noise in the water, they result in shifts in sedimentation, destroying the seabed to make the port deeper.”

Vissner acknowledges work by Northport.

“Credit where credit’s due. Northport has been doing due diligence looking at what they can do to mitigate the issues. There’s a difference between mitigation and complete abstinence. We don’t have complete abstinence in the harbour at the moment, but that doesn’t mean we should be expanding it either.”

Edney wonders what the conversation would be like if the harbour enjoyed the same legal personhood as the Whanganui river and, through spokespeople, the opinion of the harbour was required to be taken into account.

“In my ideal situation of looking at the environmental impact, the voice of the harbour would be at the table. That voice would be saying, ‘there’s too much uncertainty’.”

Track arrives for $205m Auckland to Whangarei rail upgrade

More than 100km of new rail track has arrived at Northport, ready to go onto the rail line between Auckland and Whangārei.
More than 100km of new rail track has arrived at Northport, ready to go onto the rail line between Auckland and Whangārei.

By: Mike Dinsdale


The major upgrade of Northland’s rail line can’t continue until the coronavirus lockdown ends, but to keep the plan on track more than 100km of new rail line has landed in Whangārei for when work can restart.

The Government is putting more than $205 million into the region’s rail network, including upgrading the line to Auckland and building a spur line to Northport, the deepwater port at Marsden Pt.

Now, 107.7km of rail track has landed at Northport, where it will be stored until the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are lifted.

All physical work on the upgrade is suspended due to the lockdown but KiwiRail is focused on progressing the project wherever possible, group chief executive Greg Miller said. However, unloading the rail track is not without its problems.

“The Northport team is doing an outstanding job working to unload the rail in smaller teams under social distancing requirements, which both Northport and KiwiRail take extremely seriously given the current pandemic,” Miller said.

“Unloading goods from ships is an essential service as New Zealand needs to remain connected with global freight movements and keep the flow of domestic freight moving. Once the current alert levels drop, we will be able to collect and distribute the rail, ready for it to replace worn-out sections of track.”

KiwiRail teams continue to work from home to co-ordinate the massive project and finalise design details.

“Tunnels will be lowered to enable hi-cube container freight to be transported on the line, which will have a huge impact on how freight is moved in and out of Northland,” Miller said.

“We’re also replacing up to five aging bridges so we can run heavier trains, with these larger containers on the line.

“Having the materials, like the new rail delivery, is crucial for delivering this upgrade for the region.”

Improvements to Northland’s railway lines are being made with almost $205 million of funding from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF).

A portion of the newly arrived rail will be used for other essential track replacement work throughout the North Island.

Most of the rail will be used to replace existing medium-weight rail, rail in tunnels, and sections of heavily worn rail in Northland.

Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, who is in charge of the PGF, welcomed the rail track delivery.

“I’m really heartened to see the 107,000 metres of heavy-weight rail arriving at Northport, most of which will be used to upgrade the rail line between Swanson and Whangārei,” Jones said.

“The Government is investing almost $205 million into Northland rail – including purchasing land for a potential spur line to Marsden Point – which will help create local jobs and see tens of millions of dollars fed in the regional economy.

“We’re in a very fluid situation with Covid-19. It’s too early to say exactly when work will start but we are getting ready to hit the ground running as soon as it is safe.”

He said when New Zealand emerges from the impacts of Covid-19, the investment in Northland rail will be a welcome boost to the region’s economy.

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.

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.