Marsden Point pitches for vehicle import trade

Northland’s port company says it will “move mountains” to win a major part of the vehicle import trade.

Marsden Maritime Holdings is floating the idea of purpose-built vehicle storage, preparation and distribution facilities at the port near Whangārei, in what appears to be a direct challenge to Ports of Auckland.

MMH’s pitch comes weeks before a major Government report looking at possibly moving the vehicle trade away from Auckland, in a possible re-organisation of three Upper North Island ports.

The future of vehicle imports through Ports of Auckland has become a hot political topic
JOHN SELKIRKThe future of vehicle imports through Ports of Auckland has become a hot political topic

Marsden said it wanted its idea weighed alongside a plan promoted by Auckland’s mayor Phil Goff, to move vehicles off the city’s wharves on barges, to a nearby processing centre. 

“This would replace multiple movements in Auckland, both under the current model and under the proposed one,” said MMH in a statement.

MMH, which owns the port operator North Port, said it could already handle the largest car transporters which visit Auckland, and had 700 hectares of port and commercially zoned land that could be used for a vehicle import hub.

The chair Murray Jagger said moving vehicles south could be handled either by rail upgrades and new links currently under investigation, or by a dedicated heavy vehicle lane on State Highway 1.

“We’re talking here about revolutionising the way the vehicle import industry is structured and logistics would be part of this discussion,” said Jagger.

“There is huge opportunity at this very moment to change the model of vehicle importation and distribution in the upper North Island, and to future-proof the vehicle industry.”

The release of MMH’s plan on Tuesday, also comes ahead of a Government announcement on upgrading the North Auckland rail line, which is understood to be imminent.

The proposal is the latest in a highly-politicised debate about the future of the vehicle imports, 75 per cent of which currently enter through Ports of Auckland.

Goff is fighting to retain the trade in the council-owned port, but trying to find ways to reduce the space it occupies, and how vehicles move off the port land.

His main challenger in October’s mayoral race, John Tamihere, wants to split the port operation from the land it sits on, and sell it.

At the same time, a New Zealand First policy created a working party looking at whether all or some of Auckland’s port trade could be handled through Northport.

The Upper North Island Supply Chain working group is expected to release its final report in early October, looking at the future of Auckland, Tauranga and Marsden Port.

The group was assembled after New Zealand First became a coalition partner in the Government formed in 2017.

NZF leader Winston Peters had pledged a “cast iron commitment” that would see Auckland port operations move to Northport by the end of 2027.

A report commissioned by Goff soon after he became mayor in October 2016 found the gain of reclaiming part of Auckland’s waterfront for public use to be $115 million, but the net cost of losing the trade would be around $1 billion.


Ports of Auckland’s $60m cranes that arrived last October haven’t been used yet with company saying ‘challenges’ during commissioning are ‘nothing more than you’d expect in a project of this size & complexity’

The three cranes the Ports of Auckland paid $60 million for that were built by Chinese multinational engineering company ZPMC.

The Ports of Auckland says three cranes it paid $60 million for haven’t been used for any actual work since they were delivered from Shanghai in October last year.

Chinese multinational engineering company ZPMC built them and the Ports of Auckland originally said it hoped to have them up and running within five to six months.  

Spokesman Matt Ball says while there have been some minor issues with the cranes, despite rumours to the contrary, there is nothing wrong with them.

“We found some malware on the cranes back in January, but that was eradicated a while back,” Ball says.

Peak exports

He says the main reason for the delay in getting the cranes up and running is largely due to the timing of when they arrived and when they could be tested.

“At the time the cranes were delivered we thought we might work a few trial ships with them around the middle of the year, but we decided not to, for two reasons. We changed the timing of automation so that going live didn’t happen during the export peak, and because of the amount of infrastructure work going on for automation, like pavement work in the area behind the cranes.”

Ball says the Ports of Auckland is still trialling them.

“We are currently using them in automation testing and they’ll be coming into operational service when we go live with automation in February 2020, as planned. So yes we’ve had some challenges during commissioning, but nothing more than you’d expect in a project of this size and complexity.”

Future proofing the port

Standing 82.3 metres high and weighing 2,100 tonnes each, the cranes can lift four 130 tonne containers at once.

In a statement from the Ports of Auckland in September last year, just before the cranes first arrived by ship from Shanghai, Ball said they were needed to meet the growing levels of freight the port was handling.

“We need bigger, faster cranes so we can keep up with Auckland’s growth.  More people in the city means more freight.  The ships that bring our goods from overseas are getting bigger, so we need to make sure we can handle them.  With these new cranes, and the new deep water berth they will sit on, we’ll be able to handle the biggest ships coming to New Zealand.” 

Capital costs

The Ports of Auckland has increased its debt by 30% since last year as part of an investment programme to increase its capacity and returns, despite the fact its long-term future hangs in the balance.

A report released earlier this month shows the Auckland Council’s dividends from the port will be slashed in 2020 and 2021. The Ports of Auckland Statement of Corporate Intent (SCI) covers the period from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2022. It shows the council will receive projected dividends of just $8.7 million in 2020 and $9.4 million in 2021 before increasing again to $64.3 million in 2022. Auckland Council currently has 100% ownership of the port and it received an annual dividend from its shareholding of $51.1 million in the 2017/18 financial year.

The lower dividends are because the port is in a ‘capital expansion’ period and the projected returns are now expected to dip slightly in 2019/2020 before recovering in 2020/2021.

The Ports of Auckland says the expansion work is designed to improve the port’s capacity, automate some of its operations and reduce the impact of car imports on Bledisloe and Captain Cook wharves. This investment, which also includes the construction of a new Waikato Freight Hub, has resulted in an increase in the ports debt from $368 million to $479.7 million.

In 2016 the Auckland Council formed a working group to look at the long term options for the Ports of Auckland. The resulting Port Future Study said that the port would face problems going forward due to its location. The report identified two potential locations for a new port at either the Manukau Harbour, or the Firth of Thames, which it said should be investigated.

Pacifica Shipping to upgrade with larger vessel

Wednesday, 7 August 2019, 8:29 pm
Press Release: Swire Shipping

Increased tonnage to meet rising coastal and international transhipment demand

New Zealand – Pacifica Shipping today confirmed that it has acquired a larger 1700 teu vessel for deployment on its premium coastal shipping service in New Zealand. The MV Moana Chief – which is expected to commence operations formally in September 2019 – will meet growing domestic and international transhipping cargo demand. Pacifica was acquired by The China Navigation Company (CNCo) – parent of Swire Shipping – in 2014.

Swire has been a long-term and active participant in New Zealand’s maritime and transport industry. The first Swire vessel called to New Zealand some 130 years ago. Today, Swire Shipping and Swire Bulk currently operate multiple liner and bulk vessels per month, connecting New Zealand to Australia, Asia, North America, Papua New Guinea, Pacific Islands and the rest of the world. For more information, please visit

Brodie Stevens, Country Manager, Swire New Zealand, said: “With the acquisition and an increase in tonnage from 1,100 to 1,700 teu, we strongly believe Pacifica will be in a good position to meet rising domestic cargo and transhipment demand. We want to expand the range of valuable domestic transport solutions currently already provided by Pacifica, and this will enable us to do so. Coastal shipping in New Zealand continues to play an important part in the country’s domestic economy. It is also highly complementary with road and rail networks.”

According to a report by Deloitte in 2016, 236 million tonnes of freight are moved within New Zealand annually. The size of container ships has been increasing. Coastal shipping will continue to play a role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions per container, and will also be a factor in New Zealand manufacturers’ decarbonisation of their supply chains.

Additionally, New Zealand’s domestic freight volumes are forecast to more than double by 2040, as stated in The National Freight Demand Study 2008, and confirmed again in the NFDS update, completed in 2014 – “Even with massive investment in land transport this increase could not be accommodated by road and rail alone. By growing coastal shipping, New Zealand can take a load off the other transport modes and contribute to a more efficient land transport network. By comparison, in Japan, a country with a similar geography, more than 30% of freight is carried by sea.”

Details of the acquisition are confidential.

Proposal to rid Ports of Auckland of cars to create public waterfront space

The “jewel” of Auckland’s waterfront real estate may soon be opened up for public use, as the council looks into a plan to rid the Ports of Auckland of the thousands of cars it stores.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson are investigating a proposal to use barges to transport imported cars loaded off container ships at the ports to a location in South Auckland.

For decades, both Captain Cook and Bledisloe wharves have stored up to 300,000 cars annually, as a rotating fleet of new vehicles are temporarily left there for two or three days before trucks can freight them off to car yards.

This week, Goff told the Weekend Herald a submission was being considered from New Zealand logistics company PTS Group to barge the cars stored at PoAL up the Tāmaki estuary south to PTS’ own Highbrook car depot.

“I think the really exciting idea is to barge the cars off the wharf and we know that can be done. We know there are sites they can be barged to,” Goff said.

“That requires some level of investment in various things, dredging and so on.

“But what it would do is it would enable us potentially to get the cars off the wharf on the day they arrive. So you’ve got a much faster throughput.”

A single barge would transport 250 cars from the wharf at a time, while the remainder could potentially be stored in a new five-storey parking building about to be completed on Bledisloe Wharf facing onto Quay St.

An electric barge with zero emissions is the desired option for Goff and PoAL, much like the first electric tug-boat purchased by the ports this week.

A single barge could make two trips between Highbrook and PoAL each day and, according to a PoAL estimate, remove 100 truck journeys away from the centre city.

Goff said a two-year timeframe to implement the barge proposal was realistic.

“If the study shows barging is a serious option and we should pursue it, we’d want to do that within the space of a couple of years. We’re not going to muck around on that,” he said.

Goff said PTS Group already took 80 per cent of the used cars from Auckland wharves to its Highbrook property and “obviously they could potentially do more”.

“If it were to be to Highbrook, that’s an area that’s in the south where most of the vehicle processing work takes place,” Goff said.

“It gets the trucks and the traffic off the city to Highbrook interchange, which is the most congested part of the motorway [SH1]. That’s one of the options that clearly the ports would be looking at.”

PTS could not be reached for comment.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says barging cars off the Ports of Auckland to free up space could be reality within two years. Photo / File
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says barging cars off the Ports of Auckland to free up space could be reality within two years. Photo / File

Removing the cars from Captain Cook and Bledisloe wharves would have a number of independent benefits, Goff said.

For a start, it would enable Bledisloe Wharf to be converted to allow mega cruise ships to moor there.

That would prevent the need for two proposed mooring dolphin extensions to adjacent Queens Wharf at a ballooning cost of $16.9 million, and a contracting life span of 15 years.

“My preference in an ideal world would be to utilise Bledisloe because it involves no further intrusion into the harbour, as the Captain Cook wharf would need to be extended either with mooring buoys or the wharf itself being extended,” Goff said.

“So, if that were possible, that would resolve a long-term issue in terms of access of cruise ships.”

Imported cars lined up at the Ports of Auckland on the Captain Cook Wharf in front of Queens Wharf. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Imported cars lined up at the Ports of Auckland on the Captain Cook Wharf in front of Queens Wharf. Photo / Jason Oxenham

PoAL chief executive Tony Gibson said PoAl “welcomes this challenge from the Mayor” to speed up clearing cars off the wharves, despite already running “an extremely efficient car handling operation by world standards”.

“We have been looking at barging as an option, so we are pleased to have the mayor’s backing to take this investigation to the next stage,” Gibson said.

Ultimately, Goff envisions the proposal would then leave Captain Cook wharf free for potential public space.

Up to 300,000 imported cars are stored at the Ports of Auckland annually. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Up to 300,000 imported cars are stored at the Ports of Auckland annually. Photo / Jason Oxenham

“Captain Cook wharf obviously we would like to bring back into the public realm in some way,” Goff said.

“The critical thing for me on the port is to allow public access again to the water’s edge.

“For 100 years we’ve had the red fence [barring the ports along Quay St], we’ve had the industrial use of the port, that’s why ports were always created in the centre of the city.

“But over time you can see the port area becoming the jewel in the crown of the city. A range of things have been put up. Archimedia have put up an idea. Another group has talked about a waterfront stadium.

“Not all of those ideas will run but we need a process where we engage with Aucklanders and say, what do you most want to see happen on your wharf.”

An artist's impression of a proposed Auckland waterfront stadium on Bledisloe Wharf. Photo / Supplied
An artist’s impression of a proposed Auckland waterfront stadium on Bledisloe Wharf. Photo / Supplied

Vehicle import rules getting even tougher ahead of stink bug season

Biosecurity rules are being tightened to prevent the arrival of a pest which could devastate New Zealand’s horticultural industry.

The brown marmorated stink bug feeds on more than 300 plants and has already cut a swathe through Europe and the United States.

If it gained a foothold in New Zealand, it could cost the horticulture and arable industries an estimated $4 billion.

In an effort to keep the bug at bay, Biosecurity New Zealand is tightening the rules for imports during this year’s stink bug season, which runs from September to April.

Under the new rules, the list of countries required to fumigate imported vehicles, machinery, and parts before their arrival in New Zealand would rise from 17 to 33.

These countries have all been identified as having stink bug populations.

In another change, imported vehicle cargo would need to be treated offshore, including cargo in shipping containers.

In the past only non-containerised vehicle cargo has required offshore treatment, Biosecurity New Zealand spokesman Paul Hallett said.

Offshore treatment requirements would also apply to all containers from Italy.

The brown marmorated stink bug feeds on more than 300 plants could cost the horticulture and arable industries an estimated $4 billion if it became established in New Zealand.
SUPPLIEDThe brown marmorated stink bug feeds on more than 300 plants could cost the horticulture and arable industries an estimated $4 billion if it became established in New Zealand.

“The new rules are intended to reduce the biosecurity risk to New Zealand, by ensuring potentially contaminated cargo arrives as clean as possible,” Hallett said.

Biosecurity NZ planned to have officers based in Europe this season to educate manufacturers, treatment providers and exporters about the new requirements and to audit facilities.

“If our checks find any issues, New Zealand will not accept any cargo from that facility until the problem has been fixed.”

Hallett said New Zealand’s treatment requirements were now closer to Australia’s, which would make compliance easier for importers bringing cargo to both countries.

“A key difference is that the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources will continue to allow treatment on-arrival for containerised goods,” he said.

The new rules would be provisional until July 15 and could be contested during that time.

The changes come after a spate of stink bug discoveries last year.

In November, Biosecurity NZ ordered a vehicle carrier to leave New Zealand waters after the discovery of stink bugs.

Three live and 39 dead brown marmorated stink bugs were found aboard the Carmen when it arrived in Auckland from Europe. Another 69 regulated stink bugs were also found.

A week later, more than two dozen live stink bugs were found in a box of shoes imported into New Zealand from EBay.


The Ports of Auckland says its dividend to the Super City will fall due to the cost of its investment plans

byStephen Forbes

The Ports of Auckland says the Auckland Council can expect a reduced dividend over the next two to three years as it pushes ahead with a major investment programme.

Auckland Council currently has 100% ownership of the port and it received an annual dividend from its shareholding of $51.1 million in the 2017/18 financial year.

But the port company has increased its debt by 30% since last year as part of an investment programme to increase its capacity and returns, despite the fact its long-term future hangs in the balance.

“We expect a reduced dividend stream [to Auckland Council] for the next two to three years, followed by an increased return in years after that as we get benefit from current investments,” Ports of Auckland spokesman Matt Ball says.

He says the investment programme includes container terminal automation, construction of a new car handling facility and investment in its new Waikato Freight Hub.

And according to the latest Auckland Council Group Performance Overview the port company has taken on more debt to pay for it.

“This investment has resulted in an increase in debt from $368.0 million to $479.7 million.”

The council report says this has been accompanied by a fall in container volumes due to “reduced terminal capacity during the automation works and the loss of a major contract”. While there has also been a drop in the number of cars being processed by the port due to lower car sales and the impact of new biosecurity measures.

It says such factors are likely to have an adverse impact on the Ports of Auckland’s net profit after tax for 2018/2019. But it says the capital investment by the Ports of Auckland will lead to added capacity and the outlook is projected to improve in 2021/22.

Ball says the report is an accurate reflection of where things are at for the Ports of Auckland.

The company unveiled its new Waikato Freight Hub last month. Ball says he can’t divulge the exact cost of the project for commercial reasons.

But he says the project has so far included the purchase of the 33 hectare site in 2016 and the completion of the first customer facility which has now been completed, as well as a new bridge for road access which is expected to be completed this year. He says there are also plans to construct rail sidings and additional customer facilities as required.

When asked about the port’s future in Auckland he refers to the company’s 30 year Master Plan was produced in 2017 and approved by Auckland Council in May last year.

“We’re basing everything we do on that master plan until we’re told otherwise. The plan is designed to fit with the idea of the port eventually moving, but it is also intended to allow us to keep the freight moving until then.”

The latest news on the Ports of Auckland’s capital investments follows a lot of political debate over its future in the City of Sails.

Auckland Mayoral candidate John Tamihere has called for the Ports of Auckland’s business operations to be privatised to help ease the financial burden faced by the city’s ratepayers.

Under his proposal released last month the Super City would still retain ownership of the land the port sits on and the new port owners would have to lease the land back from the council at a “credible commercial rate for up to 25 years”. They would also be expected to develop an agreed exit strategy.

While NZ First MP and Minister for Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones is continuing in his quest to see the Ports of Auckland’s operation’s north to Whangarei. He says connecting Northport to rail and enabling it to service Auckland-bound freight would make a major contribution to the region’s economic development.

Last month Jones released a new report by consultants AECOM New Zealand and Deloitte on the feasibility of upgrading Northland’s rail network to allow it to happen. The business case was produced for the Ministry of Transport and paid for by the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) and says upgrading the Northland rail network and building a new rail spur from the main line to Northport would cost $1.3 billion.

Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere proposes selling Ports of Auckland

Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere has proposed selling Ports of Auckland to a private company but keeping its waterfront land in public hands.

In his latest policy announcement, Tamihere today said the best way to future-proof the 77ha of prime waterfront land was to split the council-owned business from the land and go to market with the business.

Under his proposal, the new port owners would lease the land from council at a commercial rate for up to 25 years to develop an agreed exit strategy.

“The Ports must move, but exactly where it moves to will be part of ongoing discussions,” he said.

“But I have to give clarity and direction so we can all plan for the next 25 years.”

Mayor Phil Goff called his rival’s policy “bizarre”, saying it is the worst possible time to sell the port business when it has no clear future, nobody knows where it is going to move to and who will pay the cost of new infrastructure and relocation.

He was referring to a ports study set up by the Government to look at how the existing ports at Auckland, Marsden Point and Tauranga could be reconfigured to provide the best options for long-term growth.

The first of three progress reports from a working group in April suggested an inland port in west Auckland and a vehicle importing and servicing centre at Northport among a dozen potential transport investments to improve freight handling in the upper North Island.

The working group plans to report back to the Government in June with options and complete more detailed costings and recommendations in September.

“Who is going to buy the company when they don’t know where its operations will be in 10, 15, 25 years? It will be selling it at a bargain basement price,”Goff said.

Auckland Mayoral candidate John Tamihere. Photo / Dean Purcell
Auckland Mayoral candidate John Tamihere. Photo / Dean Purcell

Tamihere said a timely managed exit would open the Waitemata Harbour’s green footprint as well as provide a much-needed cash injection to ease ratepayers’ costs.

Other advantages would be to de-risk the costly relocation of the port, give council a financial stream from the leased land (council currently gets a dividend of about $50 million a year from the port), open up 77ha of land for ratepayers to decide its future, and establish a “transition fund” to support port workers into new jobs, he said.

Speaking to media about the policy, Tamihere did not know how much the port business could sell for, but suspected Ports of Tauranga will be “in boots and all” and interest would come form as far away as Singapore.

A Future Port Study commissioned by Auckland Council in 2016 found moving Ports of Auckland to a new “super port” in the Manukau Harbour or the Firth of Thames would cost $4 billion to $5.5b.

Tamihere said he has met major stakeholders, including port executives, the Maritime Union and transport groups to brief them on the policy. No one opposed it, he said.

He also raised the prospect of congestion charges for trucks using the port between working hours of 9am to 5pm to overcome “chronic ports traffic congestion”.

Imported cars lined up at the Ports of Auckland on the Captain Cook Wharf in front of Queens Wharf. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Imported cars lined up at the Ports of Auckland on the Captain Cook Wharf in front of Queens Wharf. Photo / Jason Oxenham

He said Auckland Transport forums and the major Ports carriers agree congestion is a major problem and are identifying ways to work through a self-regulatory system. Truckies will be in some difficulty initially but they get the transition, he said.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett said excluding heavy trucks from Auckland city between 9am and 5pm is lacking in strategy and planning, ridiculous and would have a negative impact on all New Zealanders.

“Mr Tamihere says the operations of the Ports of Auckland should move, but he has no idea where to. So, any move is many years away. In the interim, there seems to be this bizarre proposal to exclude heavy trucks from Auckland central business district (CBD) – where Ports of Auckland operates, between 9am and 5pm. He’s not sure what that truck exclusion will include.

“Why would you increase the costs of transporting goods in and out of New Zealand’s major city? This proposal would definitely add costs to all the goods in people’s lives that are transported by trucks – which is pretty much everything,” Leggett said.

Goff also slammed the idea of congestion charges during the day for trucks, saying the busiest time for truck movements was between 10am and 2pm outside of work hours.

“The policy is just not well thought out and totally counter-productive. It is making policy on the hoof,” he said.

Tamihere, who is mounting a serious challenge to Mayor Phil Goff’s bid for a second term, has already announced he will “shake up” the way council runs, turn Eden Park into the city’s main venue for sports and major events and sack the board of Auckland Transport.

Other mayoral candidates include businessman John Palino, who is standing for a third time, Joshua Love, John Lehmann and Craig Lord.

Lord has announced a policy to keep speedway at Western Springs and scrap plans to move cricket there. He also wants to make it easier for Eden Park to hold concerts.

Rail-centric view does Northland no favours

“The Upper North Island Supply Chain Study has focussed solely on rail and this does Northland no favours,” says Annabel Young, Executive Director of the NZ Shipping Federation, talking about the Interim Progress Report of the study group. “Their rail-centric view has blinded them to the opportunities available to Northport that are not dependent on rail.”

A dry dock in Whangarei would be a win-win for both the city and New Zealand as a whole; but in the interim report it gets a scant one-line mention. The lack of a dry dock is hurting this country due to the environmental and financial costs that have to be incurred when our coastal shipping operators are required to dry dock their vessels off-shore in Singapore or Australia. There are already cases where overseas ships are avoiding New Zealand due to the toxic combination of high biosecurity cleanliness requirements for a vessels hull and secondly, the inability to clean a ship in a dock that does not fit in the Devonport dry dock.

We note that the interim study assumes that cargo landed in Northport would need to be moved by rail which ignores the obvious possibility of movement by sea, as is done now in many other parts of the world using smaller domestic coastal ships and barges.

This first report sets up a paradigm where rail is deemed to be the only answer. The Federation believes it may be asking the wrong questions.


The New Zealand Shipping Federation began in 1906 and is the key representative body for New Zealand’s coastal ship operators.

West Auckland ‘inland port’ among new transport options

NorthPort today. Photo / File.
NorthPort today. Photo / File.

BusinessDesk By: Gavin Evans

An inland port in west Auckland and a vehicle importing and servicing centre at Northport are among a dozen potential transport investments a working group is considering to improve freight handling in the upper North Island.

The group, formed last year, has spent the past eight months talking with users and imagining how the existing ports at Auckland, Marsden Point and Tauranga – and the road and rail links between them – could be reconfigured to provide the best options for long-term growth.

It plans to report back to the government in June with options and complete more detailed costings and recommendations in September.

“There are a large number of infrastructure options that may have a part or full place to play in changes to the upper North Island supply chain which will be considered,” chair Wayne Brown says in a progress report filed with Cabinet’s Economic Development Committee earlier this month.

“For example, in evaluating one of our options that involves moving some of Ports of Auckland’s freight task to Northport, we will consider potential infrastructure that may be required to support this,” the group says.

They include: “a spur to Northport, which we understand the current government is investigating; upgrades to the existing North Auckland Line; potential short-term operational changes, such as moving freight through Auckland on the commuter network at night; potential long-term new infrastructure requirements such as a new rail line out west of Auckland to avoid congestion in the Auckland public transport rail network and connect through to the current inland freight terminals; and the potential establishment of new inland freight terminals.”

The Upper North Island Supply Chain study was the result of a pre-election pledge by NZ First to move container operation from Ports of Auckland to Northport by 2027.

While there is broad consensus that Auckland’s port will be increasingly constrained by the city’s development around it, there is no agreement as to how soon change is needed, how much freight could be redirected through Tauranga or Northport, and how that would be achieved.

As recently as 2016 a study group recommended work start assessing Manukau Harbour or the Firth of Thames as long-term replacement options for Auckland. Last August, Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said there wasn’t yet sufficient freight volume in Northland to warrant the relocation north. Port of Tauranga owns half of Northport.

Auckland and Tauranga are the country’s two largest container ports. With Northport, they handle about half the country’s exports and two-thirds of its import volumes.

Tauranga and Auckland, controlled by Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Auckland Council respectively, compete for freight. They considered a merger in 2006 but talks collapsed the following year. Ports of Auckland has a 20 percent stake in Northland Regional Council-controlled Marsden Maritime Holdings, Tauranga’s partner in Northport.

The working group noted submitters’ views that the “interwoven” nature of the three ports’ ownership had prevented them being developed in New Zealand’s best interests and had resulted in some inefficiencies and “duplication” of resources.

“We will be considering the current ownership structure of ports and whether a change may be needed to ensure interests are aligned to deliver the best outcome for New Zealand,” the group says.

“Councils were somewhat open to a change in port ownership as long as they preserved their income and value of the port to their community.”

Ports are long-term businesses. The working group is canvassing issues in 10-, 25- and 50-year timeframes.

Scope is also important. Freight operators argue Northport, west of the Marsden Point oil refinery, could meet growth on Auckland’s North Shore, rather than replacing Ports of Auckland entirely.

Short-term options could include establishing a distribution centre at Silverdale or Orewa; imports and Northland products could be trucked there overnight – avoiding congestion on SH1 – for day-time delivery into Auckland.

Northport already plays a similar role. Structural components for some major Auckland building projects are stored there for just-in-time delivery to avoid congestion in the CBD.

Car imports have already been identified as a potential early change. Ten hectares of new space at Northport could provide storage for 10,000 cars. Auckland currently receives about 300,000 cars annually, each of which spends close to three days on its wharves.

Northport started operating in 2002 and is largely a blank canvas. Its 49-hectare footprint can be expanded to 75 ha, while its berth length can be more than doubled to 1,390 metres. The port lies next to 180 ha of commercial and industrial land controlled by shareholder Marsden Maritime.

But it has limited capital for development and no rail link. KiwiRail and the Ministry of Transport are investigating a $200 million, 20-kilometre spur line, but that is probably more than six years away even if there was a prompt decision to proceed.

The existing line from Swanson to Fonterra’s Kauri dairy plant north of Whangarei also needs upgrading at a cost of another $500 million to carry larger and heavier container traffic. KiwiRail has previously estimated the total bill – including upgrading rail capacity from South Auckland – at about $2 billion.

The working group noted its “fundamental” belief that there is “no point making further investment in Northport without investment in, and development of, the train line to Auckland.”