Waikato Expressway a year late as road refocus drives workers offshore, says MP

A government axing of big roading projects is sending workers offshore and has put the Waikato Expressway finish a year behind schedule, a Hamilton MP says. 

The final segment of the $2.1 billion expressway is now not expected to be finished until middle or late 2021.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has put the delay down to “resourcing levels for the contractor in a constrained construction market and unseasonal weather of the 2016/17 summer.”

National's Hamilton East MP David Bennett puts the delayed completion date for the Waikato Expressway down to people heading offshore for job security.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFFNational’s Hamilton East MP David Bennett puts the delayed completion date for the Waikato Expressway down to people heading offshore for job security.

The incoming Labour-led government called a halt to National’s plans to carry expressway work south of Cambridge and Hamilton East National MP David Bennett contended the delay was due to workers heading to Australia for better job prospects as work here dries up.

“The workforce here know they don’t have any roading projects to go on with. It’s very difficult to get people to do this kind of work in this type of infrastructure now because the Government has cancelled future projects on the Waikato Expressway. And that doesn’t give certainty for staff and so they are making their own decisions and they are deciding to move before that work finishes.

David Bennett also doesn't believe the wet weather of 2016/17 summer being a valid reason for the delay.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFFDavid Bennett also doesn’t believe the wet weather of 2016/17 summer being a valid reason for the delay.

“They’ve got a very strong signal in front of them from the Government that post-2020 there is no work for them in this field, the Government has shifted their transport funding and infrastructure funding to Auckland rail and it hasn’t given the ability for people to build roads.”

Bennett also doesn’t believe the wet weather of 2016/17 summer is a valid reason for the delay. 

“We’ve had a drought this summer in the Waikato. There is no real excuse weather-wise, they could have picked up the work and finished that. The Huntly bypass has been confirmed that it will be finished in 2020 and there were no weather issues there and that’s in the same region.” 

NZTA realised last month that they would no longer be able to deliver the final section of the expressway on time.
DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFFNZTA realised last month that they would no longer be able to deliver the final section of the expressway on time.

The Hamilton section is the seventh and final part of the 102km expressway which runs from the Bombay Hills to just south of Cambridge. 

The 21-kilometre-long section includes 17 new bridges, walking, and cycling links.

The $632 million project began in 2016. It has been designed and built by a group comprising Fletcher, Beca, Higgins, and Coffey, in alliance with the NZ Transport Agency.

Then Prime Minister John Key and Transport Minister Simon Bridges turned the sod on the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway in March 2016.
MARK TAYLOR FAIRFAX NZThen Prime Minister John Key and Transport Minister Simon Bridges turned the sod on the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway in March 2016.

A review is currently underway around the delay and when completed in June it will give NZTA a better idea of expected completion dates. 

Transport Minister Phil Twyford declined to comment, calling the issue an operational matter.

Darryl Coalter, NZTA Delivery portfolio manager, said a staffing issues weren’t because of people heading overseas for better job security. 

A review will be completed in June and it should provide an idea of a new completion date for the Waikato Expressway.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFFA review will be completed in June and it should provide an idea of a new completion date for the Waikato Expressway.

“You can take it from the context of the 2011 earthquakes – our resources have been used up by significant rebuild projects. If you add in Auckland’s CRL [City Rail Link] they are pretty enormous projects for New Zealand’s size so all of those things add tension to keeping people in the market.

“2020 is still a fair way away, you just don’t know what could happen in the interim, what projects could come out. I think there is still plenty of work around if you look in the  GPS’s [Government Policy Statement on land transport ] and national transport portfolio. There is still plenty of work and plenty of investment in the assets, Coalter said. 

NIWA and Waikato Regional Council figures show while the end of 2016 was quite dry, the big impact came from a string of ex-tropical cyclones in 2017, Coalter said.

“There were enormous rainfalls and effectively what happened then was the groundwater on the site rose between one and three metres.  Unuseable material because of silt also meant more soil had top be moved, adding time.

“It’s a reality sometimes when you can’t account for all ground conditions, you can’t take account of the weather sometimes. I would love every project to come in early but sometimes you are in the lap of the gods,” Coalter said. 

NZTA had realised in within the last month that they would be no longer able to deliver the project in the predicted timeframe. The Hamilton section remains on budget. 

The Longswamp section is on schedule to be completed in 2019 and Huntly next year. 

Stuff

Twyford won’t answer road building claims

(from http://politik.co.nz/en/content/politics/1552)

: Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Finance Minister Grant Robertson with officials at last year's Infrastructure NZ Conference.

30 April 2019 By Richard Harman

Transport Minister Phil Twyford is not responding to arguments put forward yesterday by the country’s infrastructure industry calling for more road building to reduce road accidents.

A spokesperson for Twyford told POLITIK that the reports cited by Infrastructure New Zealand were at least two years old.

Therefore he would not respond.

And in Parliament, the Prime Minister said the Government’s focus was on making roads safer when she was asked by Opposition Leader Simon Bridges when a number of delayed road construction projects would go ahead.

But infrastructure New Zealand yesterday produced two reports which showed a much more complex background to New Zealand road deaths.

New Zealand’s road safety performance, as measured by road deaths, steadily improved from the 1980s right through until 2013.

A report produced in 2017 by Deloittes shows that the improvement was significant, with some 12,300 lives between 1990 to 2012 ‘saved’ due to the reduction in annual road deaths over these 22 years.

However, from 2013, the road toll began to turn, and after several decades of improvement, more people started dying each year.

In 2017, the Ministry of Transport contracted Deloitte Access Economics to investigate why safety had started to deteriorate.

They made two key findings: that economic activity and vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT)  were related and that for every one per cent increase in vehicle kilometres travelled there was a more than one per cent increase in crashes.

They also found that a one per cent increase in vehicle kilometres travelled was associated with an increase in the rate of serious injury crashes two point nine per cent and and fatal crashes one point nine per cent.

“This could be the result of changes in the nature of VKT (such as more travel on rural roads),” the report said.

And the report quoted New Zealand and overseas studies which showed that as employment increased so did vehicle kilometres travelled; in other words, there was more driving taking place when the economy was buoyant.

The report also found that an increase in motorbike registrations correlated with the increas4e in fatal smashes.

And the report quoted a Ministry of Transport study which showed that an analysis of overseas driver crashes found that approximately 77% were short-term visitors to New Zealand, between 2011 and 2015. The prevalence of overseas drivers involved in crashes also varied by region, with a quarter of all crashes in tourist areas on the South Island involving an overseas driver.

Infrastructure NZ CEO, Stephen Selwood, believes the report shows that there are too many cars on New Zealand roads.

“If we really want to lower the road toll we need to look at the volume of traffic (vehicle kilometres travelled, or VKTs) on New Zealand roads and whether these roads adequately provide for all users,” he said.

“The amount driven has increased substantially in recent years.

“Over a billion kilometres extra were travelled on our roads in 2017 versus 2016 – an increase of 5 per cent in just one year.

“We’re driving 13.3 per cent more than we did a decade ago.

“In the same ten year period, the length of sealed and unsealed road increased by 2 per cent.

“Many more vehicle kilometres travelled on roughly the same amount of road increases risk-taking.”

Selwood said that a priority for turning around New Zealand’s road toll must be to ensure investment in the road system was keeping pace with growth in traffic volumes.

“The current funding model requires fuel charges to cover the majority of transport spending, from walking and cycling to public transport, as well as our road network.

“Additionally, we expect investment in roads and rail to improve competitiveness, grow the economy, unlock land for housing, improve environmental outcomes and provide access to isolated communities.

“The system cannot cope. A complete overhaul of how and why we fund transport is required, not only to improve safety but to progress much broader economic, social and environmental objectives,” he said.

POLITIK referred his comments and the Deloitte report to Transport Minister Phil Twyford, but a spokesperson said he wouldn’t comment because the report was two years old.

Meanwhile, in Parliament Opposition Leader Simon Bridges asked the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, whether she thought  her Government was delivering “when not a single new road has been started under her Government?”

Ardern listed six roads that are to be started by the Government.

“But the thing is, under the context of road safety issues, I think the issue I’d rather highlight is that between 2013 and 2018, the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads increased by 55 per cent, and yet that Government did not change their spending plans and put them into road safety,” she said.

“The signals were all there, which is why we’re investing a record $1.4 billion over three years to upgrade over 1,500 kilometres of our most dangerous roads. If that member is only interested in new roads rather than safe roads, then I can’t help him.”

Selwood would argue that National’s policy was the way to reduce road fatalities, but he does have a vested interest. Infrastructure NZ represents the companies that build and maintain roads.

However, his view, while it will be rejected by the Greens, is likely to be shared by NZ First.

But whether they have the clout to change the Government’s track on road building is doubtful which maybe explains why NZ Infrastructure is keen to get a debate going.

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.

Notes

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

Government approach on roading as bad as Kiwibuild, Simon Bridges says after horror month of crashes

Following a spate of resignations and a halt to major road building, National Party Leader Simon Bridges is calling out the Government for the state of New Zealand’s transport system.

After an horrific crash in Taupō yesterday in which eight people died, Mr Bridges called on the Government to improve roading for safety.

Mr Bridges told TVNZ1’s Breakfast today Labour had not built any roads since being in Government, and said they had “skewed” wrongly the previous work put into the sector.

“People go on about Kiwibuild and, you know, they should – it’s an absolute fiasco – but what’s happening in transport is every bit as bad.”

The New Zealand Transport Agency, which is the Government’s arm in making decisions about New Zealand’s roads and transport, is in “complete disarray”,” Mr Bridges said.

“Anyone who’s anyone has resigned in the last few months, you’ve got serious staff retention issues – what all of this means though is you’ve got nothing happening, you’ve got no plan.

“Not a single new road built under Labour so there’s no plan, no action. What would I do? I’d get back into it,” he said. “I’d make sure National was a party of infrastructure across housing and transport.Head-on collision near Taupō leaves eight dead, only one survivorPlay Video01:54The two vehicles collided in Atiamuri, leaving a scene of utter devastation. Source: 1 NEWS


“I think most New Zealanders would say you need good, strong highways and a roading network and we need to do more on that.”

“When you think about safety you’ve got the people factor, it’s the technology, it’s the cars, and it is the roads. I think the one where you can make the most gains is fixing the roads.”

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter says the Government is working to make the roads safer and improve the safety of vehicles, but drivers also needed to be responsible.

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.”

Loss of Auckland ports could cost ratepayers extra 4 per cent a year

The location of Ports of Auckland has prompted public debate about whether there are better alternative uses for the prime waterfront land. Photo / Jason Oxenham
The location of Ports of Auckland has prompted public debate about whether there are better alternative uses for the prime waterfront land. Photo / Jason Oxenham

By: Natalie AkoorieNZ Herald reporter based in Hamiltonnatalie.akoorie@nzherald.co.nz@NatalieAkoorie

Moving some or all of Auckland’s port out of the city and revitalising Northland’s port including building a rail line between the two are some of the options canvassed in a new report.

However, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has warned against the potential loss of income from Ports of Auckland if it were moved or downsized, saying if the annual $50 million dividend was lost it could lead to a 4 per cent rate rise.

The first of three progress reports by a working group tasked with investigating New Zealand’s upper North Island supply chain strategy outlines key information about the country’s three main ports: Ports of Auckland on the city’s waterfront, Northport at Marsden Point near Whāngārei and Port of Tauranga.

The ports are critical to New Zealand’s freight task and together account for half of the country’s total export volume and two-thirds of its import volume, in tonnes.

Port of Tauranga handled the highest volume of all New Zealand ports (in tonnes) and was the most successful of the three upper North Island ports having capitalised on rail infrastructure provided to the Bay of Plenty region by the Government.

“We will therefore be considering whether similar investment in Northland would provide similar results for the region and Northport,” the working group said.

The report, released by Associate Minister of Transport Shane Jones, noted that overall imports are expected to increase across all upper North Island regions while exports will increase initially before declining at Northport and Port of Tauranga, largely because of projected decline in log exports.

Northport from the air with the Marsden Point Oil Refinery in the background. Photo / Supplied
Northport from the air with the Marsden Point Oil Refinery in the background. Photo / Supplied

However, it said roading and rail in the Northland region was so lacking that the working group “fundamentally believe there is no point making further investment in Northport without investment and development of the train line to Auckland”.

“… it is generally agreed that the lack of rail infrastructure and connectivity to Northport has hindered Northland’s economic development.”

Ports of Auckland occupied 77ha of Auckland waterfront with a book value of $735m, though this was thought to be well below valuation of comparable industrial land.

“This excludes the massive social, cultural, environmental and economic value that would be created by transforming this property into a globally iconic waterfront,” the working group said.

Stakeholders including the ports, shareholders and the road freight and shipping industries named several issues surrounding the current port system including:

• They are competing and not co-operating;

• Lack of rail infrastructure and port connectivity had been a brake on Northland’s economic development;

• Unanimous support for a fully functioning rail system to the ports;

• Concerns over duplication of port and inland port assets;

• Congestion was the main problem for freight operators.

Options to make the three ports work better included the Northland to Auckland rail spur, a second route between Auckland and Tauranga, a freight corridor through West Auckland, a West Auckland inland port, an expanded or moved Southdown inland port, a new mega port in the Firth of Thames, a vehicle servicing and import facility at Northport and a New Zealand dry dock.

Goff welcomed the report but said it did not present an analysis of options, the business case for each and the impact of each option on Auckland, the region and the country.

“The relocation of the Port out of Auckland’s city centre has some clear advantages.

“It would ultimately open up 77 hectares of central city and harbourside land and wharves for alternative and potentially more valuable uses.

“As in other international cities, it could enhance the attractiveness of Auckland as a place to live, work, enjoy and to visit. It would also reduce congestion caused by freight movement and pollution from associated activities.”

A cruise ship docking at the Port of Tauranga. The port is the most successful for freight volumes in the country which many put down to a rail link. Photo / Alan Gibson
A cruise ship docking at the Port of Tauranga. The port is the most successful for freight volumes in the country which many put down to a rail link. Photo / Alan Gibson

However, he said as a city of 1.7 million people making up 35 per cent of New Zealand’s population, Auckland needed to have the most cost-effective and efficient way of delivering goods and services to its people.

“Vital to the decision of moving Auckland’s port is the impact of each alternative location on Auckland consumers and businesses.”

Aucklanders needed to know whether and how much alternative port sites added to costs for the city, Goff said.

“We also need to ensure that the working group on the supply chain strategy considers the value of the investment Aucklanders have made in their port and the dividend return they get from it which in past years has been $50 million – equivalent to a 3 to 4 per cent rate increase if that dividend is lost.”

Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said the progress report identified well-known issues such as the need for increased investment in road and rail networks and the historic financial under-performance and inconsistent reporting by some ports.

He said Port of Tauranga challenged some of the “facts, assumptions and implications” in the interim report, and were hopeful they will be addressed before the next report.

“For example, the report states that the Bay of Plenty and Waikato have benefitted from rail infrastructure and investment provided by the Government at no capital cost to the end user.

“This ignores the $267 million in rail costs paid by Port of Tauranga since 2010.”

National’s Transport spokesman Paul Goldsmith claimed the interim report showed a “thinly disguised preference for massive investment in rail between South Auckland and Northport, leading to a shift of activity away from the Ports of Auckland to Northport”.

“It also seems to be peddling the concept of a nationalised ports monopoly in the upper North Island. There is no evidence or analysis to back up the suggestion that such a nationalised monopoly would be more efficient than current arrangements.

“There is no evidence to suggest the billions it would cost to upgrade rail from Auckland to Whangarei, plus building a new spur to Marsden point and a new freight line across Auckland, would be the best use of scarce transport resources and would lead to a better outcome for exporters or consumers.”

Goldsmith said the Government was “quite right” to be inquiring into the efficiency of freight movements across the NOrth Island and planning for the long term future.

“We support careful and considered planning of future investment. Which is why National has supported the Government’s planned Infrastructure Commission to advise on such things. The direction of this report, however, undermines the Infrastructure Commission approach.”

A second report outlining advantages to changing from the status quo, international comparisons and a long-term view will be presented to Cabinet in June.

The final report with recommendations for future development and strategy will be presented to Cabinet in September.

Upper North Island ports by the numbers

Northport

• Exported 3.25 million revenue tonnes in one year, mostly logs as well as kiwifruit, steel and woodchip;

• Imported considerably lower amount of 311,000 tonnes to June 2018.

Port of Tauranga

• Accounted for 43 per cent of New Zealand’s total export volume in year to June 2018;

• 55 per cent of exports are wood and paper products, majority of which are logs.

Ports of Auckland

• Second largest container port after Tauranga, Ports of Auckland is significant for imports because of the population it serves – 35 per cent of New Zealand’s population.

• Largest importer of vehicles. In year to June 2018, Ports of Auckland handled almost 300,000 cars, a 43 per cent increase from 2014.

• Ports of Auckland and Port of Tauranga have an import-export imbalance – Auckland has higher imports and Tauranga higher exports. It means about 40 per cent of 20-foot containers stand empty.

Ports of Auckland could become a make-or-break issue for the Coalition

An artist’s impression of a port-less Auckland. Graphic/Stop Stealing Our Harbour

An artist’s impression of a port-less Auckland. Graphic/Stop Stealing Our Harbour

New Zealand First appears as closed-minded on the Ports of Auckland as the other vested interests, who are either opposing change or advocating for alternatives.However dysfunctional those charged with providing vital transport infrastructure can be, they somehow always manage an instant massed-wagon-circling at the very mention of reform.

The Government is about to receive reports on both the future location of the Ports of Auckland and the feasibility of upgrading Northland’s rail. Labour’s support partner, New Zealand First, is fervently committed to moving some of Auckland’s port business to Northland, saying it will relieve our biggest city of congestion and bring much-needed growth to the north. For the coalition, this could become a make-or-break issue.

Unfortunately, NZ First appears as closed-minded on the issues as the other vested interests, who are either opposing change or advocating for alternatives, such as Tauranga, the Firth of Thames or Manukau Harbour.

Because of the complex governance and ownership issues of Ports of Auckland and other potentially affected ports and public entities, any Government changes will be extremely hard to negotiate. The choices available will also be sandbagged by the virtual impossibility of getting any case for new or restored rail to stack up financially.

However, the biggest hurdle will be patch protection – not just from commercial interests, but also from public agencies who too quickly forget the wider obligation that their state-conferred monopoly status puts on them.

Chief interested party is Auckland Council, which owns 100% of the Ports of Auckland. It has consistently defended its right to the port’s undiminished annual dividend of more than $50 million – to the point of vowing to build a multistorey waterfront car park for more revenue.

Mayor Phil Goff is adamant the port is essential to Auckland’s future. However, this assertion is debatable, given that a city such as Sydney survives very well with its harbour reserved for cruise ships and cargo sent to Port Botany, Wollongong or Newcastle.

Loss of port revenue would, however, doubtless force Aucklanders to pay for the loss with even higher rates, for benefits mostly accruing outside its boundaries. This would be unfair, especially to those on low incomes, and so politically dangerous that no sane administration would cause it to happen.

Perhaps a better starting point would be to regularise, even centralise, the haphazard patchwork of ports ownership. This would inevitably land the Government with a fat compensation bill, but the existing potpourri of local body, port-specific and private shareholders is a barrier to efficiency. Intra-agency competition and multiple interests – Auckland part-owns Tauranga’s and Northland’s port as well – further occlude the picture.

The National Party’s policy of treating the ports as discrete commercial entities immune from state interference is recklessly hands-off. But, by the same token, Aucklanders may be incensed at seeing their port asset commandeered, especially with NZ First so blatantly using Northland as its electoral base.

Yet, Auckland’s port must somehow be restored to being part of the national ports network. Aucklanders, used to the city’s infamous congestion, would be the first to agree it remains an international embarrassment that a prime waterfront site is used to store second-hand cars. Moving the port would unlock 77ha of superb shore land.

Northland’s Marsden Point tempts as an existing deep-water port, which, with a suitable rail spur from the Auckland line, could handle the business. Tourist and even commuter growth could ensue. Yet, there are other considerations, including the likelihood that moving the port to Northland would hugely increase congestion in Auckland, since most goods exported out of it are produced south of the city and would have to pass through it. Even if some of the goods went by train – and the expense of building rail tracks could itself prove prohibitive – the trains would be more frequent and longer, causing frustrating delays at level crossings. There are also the climate-change considerations, with increased emissions from transporting freight over longer distances.

In New Zealand, 99.7% of all imports and exports travel by sea, so the ports issue is not trivial. Any changes to these assets will affect, for better or worse, numerous other sectors and projects, not least the still-uncosted light rail to Auckland Airport. The sheer complexity and political risk may simply end in inertia. But everyone concerned has a duty to approach this debate with the country’s best interests at heart.

An electoral double-whammy on Auckland Port’s future

Container straddle cranes are being automated as part of moves to extend the terminal's capacity and life
Container straddle cranes are being automated as part of moves to extend the terminal’s capacity and life

Todd Niall – RNZ.

OPINION: The future of Auckland’s downtown port deserves careful and unemotive consideration – the problem is, it will become entangled in two elections in the next two years.

The big question is, should all or part of Ports of Auckland’s current operations go elsewhere, either to existing upper North Island ports, or to a brand new port?

Before the 2017 general election New Zealand First pledged to move the whole thing to Northland by 2027 – with the vehicle import trade gone this year.

Mayor Phil Goff (2nd from right) and Councillor Paul Young (left) watching the arrival of new container cranes at the port
SUPPLIEDMayor Phil Goff (2nd from right) and Councillor Paul Young (left) watching the arrival of new container cranes at the port

 A working group led by former Far North mayor Wayne Brown has finished an interim report after canvassing the views of major stakeholders on the futures of the three major upper North Island ports, but it has yet to go to cabinet, and is described as “non-decision-making.”.

A more substantial “final” report from the group is expected in September, a month before local body elections.

Cruise ship berths will eventually move further east, as Ports of Auckland shrinks its cargo and container space
Cruise ship berths will eventually move further east, as Ports of Auckland shrinks its cargo and container space

That is expected to be only the end of the beginning of the debate, signalling the investigations needed if the idea is to be pursued.

Those who were at an early meeting involving Brown and Auckland mayor Phil Goff, described the tone as “interesting”, and the pair clashed publicly even before that meeting.

Goff is navigating a tricky political path, having himself campaigned in 2016 on moving the car trade, and eventually the port, but now having to defend the interests of ratepayers who own Ports of Auckland through the council.

The mayor has quickly filed away a report he commissioned in 2017, hoped to show the economic argument for shifting the vehicle trade out of Auckland.

The report by NZIER in fact found the gain of reclaiming part of the waterfront to be $115 million, but the net cost of losing the trade to be around $1 billion.

If the Brown group report is delivered in the run-up to the local body elections it risks fuelling political posturing on an issue needing no urgent decisions.

Ports of Auckland is working to ensure it can do its job for another 30-40 years within its existing footprint, and even then no one knows what new technology, or trade patterns might extend that.

Automation of the container terminal alone will nearly double the capacity it has today.

Ugly though the port might be, it directly employs about 500 staff, pays $68m in wages, and chips a $51m annual profit into council coffers.

In short, it may never have to move, but there are arguments in favour of it doing so, and releasing prime waterfront land for more public enjoyment.

Any huffing and puffing this year over the port might pale against what could happen next year, as the parties in the coalition government return to their individual stances in the run-up to the general election.

NZ First will want to show progress on its 2017 pledge, with both leader Winston Peters and list MP Shane Jones – who oversees the port work – wanting to keep faith with their Northland supporters.

Labour’s influence in the cautiously worded work now underway suggests less enthusiasm for a rush to undertake the biggest infrastructure project the country has ever seen, in relocating all or part of a port, with the roading and rail links needed.

Shareholders would solve Ports of Auckland’s problems

New cranes at Ports of Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenham
New cranes at Ports of Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenham

NZ Herald Editorial

COMMENT:

Of all the policies the NZ First Party brought into this coalition Government, the wildest and wackiest was to move the entire port of Auckland to Marsden Pt. The Labour Party agreed only to commission a feasibility study the idea of moving the port and left open the choice of alternative sites. Winston Peters, hoping to hold the Northland seat, promised to move the whole operation to Northport, but the coalition agreement merely directed Northport be given “serious consideration”.

The feasibility study led by former Far North District mayor Wayne Brown is reported to have produced an interim report for the Government and its tentative suggestions ought to be interesting. The fact that ministers will receive at the same time a report on upgrading the railway from Auckland the Marsden Pt suggests Northport is the preferred alternative for at least some of Auckland’s imports.

Doubtless there are countless ways that goods shipped to or from New Zealand could be better shared between various ports, not only for more efficient handling and distribution but also to stop the Auckland port encroaching ever further on the Waitematā harbour.

Doubtless too, the companies running ports would quickly find a more efficient use of them — within the constraints on Auckland — if Ports of Auckland Ltd had commercial shareholders.

Its nearest rivals, Port of Tauranga and Northport, are majority owned by their local bodies but also have tradeable shares which has resulted in a degree of cross-ownership. Tauranga has a stake in Northport, as does Ports of Auckland Ltd. But PoAL is entirely owned by the Auckland Council which has been averse to any of its business going to other ports.

Total public ownership has been a mixed blessing for Auckland citizens. While the council collects all the port’s dividends it suffers a conflict of interest when Aucklanders oppose the port’s further expansion. Despite a long campaign to stop the port company extending wharves for the latest cruise ships, the council is allowing moored “dolphins” and walkways to extend Queens Wharf.

Mayor Phil Goff did not exactly welcome news this week that an interim report of the feasibility study has arrived on ministers’ desks. “Any decisions on the future of Ports of Auckland should have the agreement of the council,” he said. “We accept that at some point the growth of freight into Auckland will outgrow the land available…..” Citizens opposed to further harbour reclamation would say that point was reached some time ago. Goff said the same when he stood for election.

“However, the port is also a critical lifeline of freight into our city,” he says now. No it is not. Freight from any other port could reach Auckland, making room for cruise ships within Auckland port’s existing harbour footprint.

Most of Auckland’s port is unlikely to be going anywhere. The feasibility study should be looking at rationalising the use of all New Zealand Ports but it should not suppose politicians can best decide where freight goes. The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council is planning to partially float its port at Napier. If the Auckland Council did likewise it would see the city’s interests more clearly.

Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones launches the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission

The Government has launched a new independent Crown entity tasked with addressing New Zealand’s “unprecedented infrastructure deficit”.

The New Zealand Infrastructure Commission – Te Waihanga – would look at ways of fixing and further funding areas where infrastructure investment is needed.

Transport projects and urban infrastructure issues would likely be the focus of the new commission.

Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said New Zealand has an “unprecedented infrastructure deficit” and the commission was tasked with addressing that.

He said New Zealand’s transport and urban infrastructure was struggling to keep up with population growth.

“This infrastructure deficit is manifesting in housing unaffordability, congestion, poor-quality drinking water and lost productivity.”

“That’s simply not good enough,” he said.

The Treasury has estimated the total infrastructure spend over the next five years would be $42 billion – more than double that of the past five years.

Jones said this showed why the establishment of the Infrastructure Commission was needed.

Overall strategy and planning would be the focus of the new body.

In a Cabinet paper, Jones said the Infrastructure Commission would also act as a “shop front” for private companies looking to invest in New Zealand.

He pointed the finger at the previous Government, accusing National of focusing on short-term projects and under-investing in infrastructure projects.

Local Government New Zealand president Dave Cull said unprecedented population growth and the need to adapt for climate change, as well as a low-emissions economy, means that New Zealand was “behind the eight ball in terms of infrastructure investment”.

“Having a central agency to act as a shop front that the private sector can interact with, and having an ability to buy goods and services in bulk will be a massive benefit to regional development projects,” he said.

The Cabinet has approved just over $4 million to establish the commission and legislation establishing the body would go before Parliament in April.

The creation of the Infrastructure Commission has been well flagged – in August last year Jones announced work had begun on establishing the body.

He said Treasury had been unable to properly quantify the value of the infrastructure deficit New Zealand was facing which he said “was not good enough”.

The new body would work to quantify the level of the deficit, as well as figuring out how to fix it.

The Government received 130 submissions on what the body should look like.

“We have heard that message, and we have delivered.”

Ministers will retain final decisions on infrastructure investments, but the Commission will have an independent board and the autonomy it needs to provide robust, impartial advice.

“It will help hold this Government, and future governments, to account and we welcome that,” Jones said.