COVID-19 Update: Ports of Auckland response

Update 1: 16 March 2020


With the COVID-19 situation escalating rapidly, I wanted to update you on the measures the port is taking to secure Auckland’s maritime supply lines.
As one of Auckland’s lifeline utilities we are acutely aware of our responsibility to ensure that 1.7 million Aucklanders can continue to get key essentials through the port. We’re also acutely aware that many Auckland businesses rely on getting imports in or exports out via our port to keep their businesses running.


I want to reassure you that we are doing all we can to safeguard our ability to service ships, so we can continue to serve you.


Impact so far:


To date there has been no impact on our ability to operate.
Container volumes were down 15% in February as a result of restrictions in China and we expect the same for March. April bookings look firmer now that China is starting to get back up and running, but volumes to other countries may be impacted.


General cargo volumes have not changed much but we do expect vehicle volumes to fall as a result of lower demand and disruption to the vehicle supply chain overseas.


Cruise visits are now suspended, with 30 visits cancelled.
In our view, the impact of COVID-19 could last until September or longer.


Our actions to date:


We are doing everything we can to prevent our staff from getting sick. While some of our staff can work from home, quite obviously we can’t run a port without people on site. For that reason, preventing our staff from getting sick is crucial.


We have been operating with increased border controls since January. This has included not handling ships which had called in high-risk areas and/or ships with crew who had transferred from high-risk areas in the 14 days before they were due in port.


The most recent restrictions from Government are helpful. With the closure of the cruise industry, we are now able to focus on handling freight. Shore leave for ship crews has been stopped. International transfers are still allowed, but we have put in place measures to ensure crew do not interact with our staff.


Staff interactions with ship crews is being kept to a minimum and our staff have effective personal protective equipment and training.
We are preparing to put in place land-side control measures.


We have also:
• Brought forward the provision of flu vaccinations;
• Provided clear advice to staff on how to avoid infection;
• Required staff returning from international travel to stay home for 14 days;
• Banned international business travel
• Cancelled non-essential meetings;
• Provided additional leave to ensure sick staff stay home;
• Provided Employee Assistance Programme support for staff.

Automation


Last week we successfully completed the first trial ship-loading operation. A vessel completed its regular container exchange and was then moved to the new northern berth to top-up with empty containers. This went very well and a second, larger practice is planned this week.
The recently announced travel restrictions will impact on the go-live planned for the end of the month. We were awaiting the arrival of key staff from The Netherlands who need to be on site for go live, and this is now not possible with a 14-day self-isolation period. We are currently figuring out how we can work around this restriction, possibly through remote access.
Reduced volumes through the container terminal have had some upside for automation. We have been able to accelerate staff training and we will be able to bring forward some infrastructure work that is needed for phase 2 go live. We hope that this will allow us to still hit our planned full go live date in late May, early June.
Automation could prove to be a crucial tool in our efforts to keep the port operational, especially if large numbers of our stevedoring staff get sick.


What you can do:

We need your help to keep the port open. Ensure your staff know how to protect themselves from infection. If any of your staff are sick or have travelled in the past 14 days, please ensure they do not come to the port. These simple steps will help us help you.
I hope this update is useful. I will provide further updates as the situation changes.


Kind regards
Tony Gibson
CEO
Ports of Auckland.

Ports of Auckland terminal automation

The following is an announcement from Ports of Auckland:

In preparation for phase 1 go-live, we have begun trialling small container exchanges on regular vessels using the automated systems.
The first of these took place last night (12 March) and went well. The MSC Lori completed its normal exchange at our FX/FZ berths and was then moved to Fergusson North (FN) to top off the load with empty containers.

This practice run has given our staff and external parties like truck drivers valuable experience with the new system and processes.
We are aiming to complete a second empty loading practice next week, if shipping schedules allow, and possibly a third the week after.
We will then carry out an exchange on a vessel at FN, which will mark the ‘official’ go-live for Phase 1 of automation.

Phase 1 involves turning on the automation on the northern part of our terminal, serving Fergusson North Berth (FN, the wharf with the new cranes on it). We will start phase 1 with one ship a week and gradually build up until we are delivering a full service across multiple vessels handled each week.
We will also trial moving laden imports that have come off vessels at FX/FZ through the automated terminal to be delivered via the A-Strad truck grids so we can build experience and capacity gradually over the coming weeks.

The switch to full terminal wide automation will probably not happen until late June, and only when we have complete confidence in the operation of the automated systems.

COVID-19 has caused many problems worldwide, including reducing our container volumes in February and March. However, the silver lining in this cloud is that the reduced workload has made it easier to train our stevedoring teams in the new processes for automation. We are also likely to be able to bring forward some of the remaining pavement work we need to do before going live in the southern part of the terminal in June.

It is important to understand that the changes we are making at Fergusson Container Terminal are significant in terms of how we will operate in the future. Critically, automation provides additional yard capacity, more stevedoring resource and consistent handling of trucks through the main truck grid. It does not mean more VBS slots during the daytime hours of Monday to Friday, but once fully implemented in the second half of 2020 it will deliver more consistent levels of service throughout the day and night, as well as weekends. Business processes will change, particularly when it comes to managing exceptions. This is new technology and a new way of operating. POAL is leading worldwide innovation by combining a manned (people) straddle operation with automated straddles. From the onset we have to manage the operation carefully and build up our capacity and operations in a way that ensures safety for our people and a reliable and sustainable level of service to our customers.

For any further questions related to Automation please also refer to our FAQ on our website. http://www.poal.co.nz/about-us/Pages/Automation.aspx
We will continue to provide regular updates and please continue to tune into our Website for further updates.

Ports of Auckland interim results

Monday, 2 March, 2020 – 10:48

Ports of Auckland Chief Executive, Tony Gibson has today announced the company’s half-year results.

“Our company is in the midst of delivering our 30-year master plan, a major investment programme which will increase capacity, efficiency and returns, as well as lay the foundation for us to meet our 2040 zero emission goal.

Delivering such a large investment programme whilst keeping the port working well has not been without challenges, however the last six months have seen significant progress and the next six months will see the completion of two major master plan elements: container terminal automation and the new car handling building. We have also made significant progress on a third element, channel deepening.

We largely completed infrastructure work for terminal automation this period, enabling some capacity to be returned to terminal operations. There is still some work to do in the second half of the financial year, but the worst of the disruption from this work is behind us. The 2019 import peak did not see the same level of congestion or delay that was seen in 2018.

Even so, we have felt the effect of the automation work this period. Container volumes were down two percent on the year prior as a result of the loss of two service calls, a service change and a high number of vessels arriving out of schedule.

The ability to find staff in a tight labour market has also affected volumes. At times we haven’t had the resources to handle as many containers as customers have wanted. This situation is expected to ease once automation is fully delivered.

Automation will go live in two phases: the northern part of our terminal late March and the southern area two-three months later. In early January we decided to put the go-live date for Phase 1 back a month to the end of March 2020 so that we could handle unexpectedly high January volumes.

Automation testing and preparation is going well. We are now testing the new terminal operating software using live terminal data. Staff training is ongoing and truck drivers are also being trained in the new processes.

Once automation is fully live around the middle of the year, we will gain a significant amount of terminal capacity, from around 900,000 TEU a year to around 1.7 million TEU. That is enough capacity to handle the freight needs of a million more people in Auckland and should last us until the middle of the century. If necessary, beyond this date further changes to the port layout and greater levels of automation could deliver enough capacity for an Auckland population of around 5 million people.

Work on our new car handling building has progressed very well and the building is expected to be finished on time and on budget around the middle of 2020.

It will deliver new capacity in time for the Auckland fishing fleet to be relocated to Marsden wharf for the America’s Cup and to handle an expected upturn in vehicle imports as New Zealand switches to an electric vehicle fleet.

We have started engagement for a new public space on the building’s roof which will be an exciting addition to the downtown waterfront. We aim to have the park open no later than 2023.

We have applied for consent to deepen our channel and asked for the application to be publicly notified. Notification was not required under the Auckland Unitary Plan for dredging inside the channel precinct, but we feel it is important for all our major projects to be carried out in an open and transparent manner. We also undertook a great deal of public engagement prior to lodging consent. Council has now received public submissions and we expect a consent hearing to be held later this year.

Work at our Waikato Freight Hub has progressed well, with the completion this period of the new access road and bridge which will be vested with Waikato District Council. Construction of the first stage of heavy-duty pavement for the inland port part of the development is underway.

Financial performance

As expected, revenue was flat while costs for the last six months were up, due to the investment programme, higher interest costs, and higher labour costs. As a result, net profit after tax was $17.2 million, compared to $24.4 million in the pcp.

This situation will remain much the same for the full year. The company will not pay an interim dividend and will pay a lower full-year dividend as forecast. The second half of the year will be impacted by the new coronavirus. While we expect the impact to be temporary, we can’t estimate the quantity of it yet.

Looking forward to the 2020/21 financial year, while there is still uncertainty in the global trade environment, the completion of the automation project will mean more capacity at the terminal and the ability to handle greater volumes. With new capacity in hand and a third berth in operation, we will look to win back both volumes and services over the coming year.

Our people

One of the biggest issues for our people is the impact of automation on jobs. We expected around 50-60 roles to be affected, but as we get closer to go-live we can see several factors which may lead to a lesser impact.

First, our container terminal operations are under-staffed due to a tight labour market. Second, some jobs may change but not disappear and some new roles are being created. Third, when automation goes live we will also open our third container berth and we expect volume to increase.

This is a potentially positive situation. If we win back services and increase volume, we may have a situation where no roles are lost, so once automation is fully operational, we will be targeting volume that has moved to other ports in the last few years. Given our position on Auckland’s doorstep, with a faster, lower carbon supply chain than other ports, we expect to be successful in winning back business.

Because we will not know the exact impact on jobs until after automation is fully operational, we have given a commitment that there will be no staff changes until after implementation is complete. We are ensuring staff are kept well informed.

Zero-emission by 2040

We intend to be a zero-emission port by 2040.

As a member of the Climate Leaders Coalition we have made a public commitment to set an emissions reduction target. We have also committed to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) because of the scheme’s ability to help with verifying that our emission reduction roadmap is consistent with an approach grounded in science. The SBTi requires emissions reductions roadmaps to be aligned to a target consistent with keeping global warming well below 2OC or 1.5OC of pre-industrial levels.

We have developed an emissions reduction roadmap in line with the ‘well below 2OC’ target and it was approved by the Board in December. In the short to medium term the roadmap involves using fuel switching (to bio diesel or renewable diesel) and the purchase of renewable energy certificates for our electricity to achieve emissions reductions. This will be followed by the adoption of zero emission technology in the mid to late 2030s. We are now submitting our roadmap to the SBTi for verification.

We are also looking to reduce emissions in the supply chain. Our great advantage as a port is that we are in the market we serve. Other ports, like Tauranga or Northport, lie a great distance away so goods imported to Auckland through these ports have a higher carbon footprint.

We have created a carbon calculator so that cargo owners can see the difference using a local port makes. For example, a 15 tonne, 20-foot container imported via Ports of Auckland and delivered to South Auckland will only emit 18 kilogrammes (kgs) of carbon. Through Tauranga it will emit 130 kgs – seven times as much – and through Northport ten times as much: 184 kgs.

At a time when climate change seems to be accelerating, every gram of carbon counts. Currently around 300,000 TEU of Auckland freight is handled through Tauranga. Auckland could potentially save over 30,000 tonnes of CO2 a year by importing through its local port. By helping customers see the benefit, we can make a significant contribution to Auckland’s effort to fight climate change.

We continue to make a positive economic and social contribution to Auckland and New Zealand. Our recent investments will ensure we can continue to play that role in the future, and we will see the results of that investment delivered from 2020 onwards.

I would like to thank our staff, management and directors for the work they have been doing to prepare our port for a new era and to keep it operating at a high standard.”

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.

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.”

Auckland Port move: CEO decries ‘made up facts’ by pro-move group

Todd Niall 15:50, Nov 22 2019

Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson
SUPPLIED/POALPorts of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson

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.

Northport at Marsden Point is recommended by a working group for expansion to replace Auckland's port
SUPPLIEDNorthport at Marsden Point is recommended by a working group for expansion to replace Auckland’s port

“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.  

An email purportedly sent by the New Zealand First party, seeking donations by making a link to its port-move policy
TWITTERAn email purportedly sent by the New Zealand First party, seeking donations by making a link to its port-move policy

“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.

Stuff