Transport lobby opposes port move north

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

NZ Insights By: Imran Ali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transmission Gully project ‘likely’ pushed out to 2021

You can forget November. And there will be no Christmas present for frustrated Wellington region motorists either. Transmission Gully won’t be open in 2020.

Delivery of the $1 billion highway will likely be extended to 2021, the New Zealand Transport Agency has confirmed.

The project has been flattened by Covid-19 and steamrolled by the Government’s alert level restrictions. Now it also faces the challenges of winter.

But it’s unclear whether the likely delay will mean the public-private consortium tasked with building it will be fined thousands of dollars every day it misses its original deadline.

The latest assigned Transmission Gully delivery date was November 1, with NZTA previously warning of a $16,000 fine for each day it was late.

If the road wasn’t open by December 18, it was to be slapped with a $10 million penalty.

“As [NZTA] is currently involved in negotiations with the JV [joint venture], we’re not in a position to provide further comment at this time,” a spokeswoman said on Sunday, when asked about whether the fines would still occur.

Transmission Gully roading works at Takapu Road. Housing developments on the Kāpiti Coast are growing with the building of the commuter road to Wellington.
ROSS GIBLIN/STUFFTransmission Gully roading works at Takapu Road. Housing developments on the Kāpiti Coast are growing with the building of the commuter road to Wellington.

Andrew Thackwray, NZTA senior manager in project delivery, said it was clear the Level 4 lockdown and Level 3 restrictions “will have an impact on the completion date, which will likely extend into 2021”.

“As the project is a public-private partnership with different commercial terms, Waka Kotahi [NZTA] is negotiating with the builder, CPB/HEB Joint Venture, to confirm and agree a new completion date.”

Work resumed on April 29 at a number of sites along the 27-kilometre route, Thackwray said. New work sites were being progressively started as crews were re-inducted to ensure compliance with Covid-19.

“We understand that the builder has made adjustments to the programme of work in line with the change of season,” Thackwray said.

“Typically these changes would be more gradual as we go through the seasons, however all work was suspended during the lockdown and we are now heading into winter so we expect changes need to be made to reflect that.

“Many of the activities due to be completed were not scheduled to be worked on at the onset of winter so this requires a major change in how work on Transmission Gully will need to be delivered.”

Work was under way to develop a new delivery plan as quickly as possible, using local resources, Thackwray said.

He said there were 182 people working across four reopened sites. Another 59 were working from home to support the project.

A “significant portion” of site engineering and supervision team – about 80 roles – and some of the operations personnel were still overseas at home, unable to return to the site with border restrictions, he said.

Nick Leggett, chief executive of the Road Transport Forum.
THE-PRESSNick Leggett, chief executive of the Road Transport Forum.

When the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown was announced, reports emerged of a mass exodus of Australian construction workers, who chose to head home rather than wait out the lockdown here.

News of the likely delay comes after Nick Leggett, chief executive of the forum which represented several regional trucking associations, said there were suggestions the project’s budget had been cut and the timeline extended for two years.

“In the final straight of construction of such a large project, which was due to be completed by the end of this year, it is a worry to hear that contracts for supply and equipment have been cut, and workforce numbers reduced.”

National Party transport spokesman Chris Bishop labelled a rumoured two-year extension to the Transmission Gully as "excessive" and "extremely concerning". ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF
ROSS GIBLIN/STUFFNational Party transport spokesman Chris Bishop labelled a rumoured two-year extension to the Transmission Gully as “excessive” and “extremely concerning”. ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF

National’s Transport spokesman Chris Bishop echoed Leggett’s concerns, saying the Government’s rhetoric wasn’t matching up with what’s happening on the ground and called for urgent clarification.

NZ Transport Agency planning for restart of billions-worth of roading projects

Joel Maxwell05:00, Apr 21 2020

Planning is underway to restart significant roading projects such as Transmission Gully, untouched since lockdown.

However questions remain about whether there are even enough staff left in New Zealand to complete them – or when they might now be finished.

Last week the Government released a broad-stroke outline of what could happen when the nation steps down to Level 3 restrictions: allowing construction work with health, safety and distancing controls.

NZ Transport Agency senior manager Andrew Thackwray said on Friday staff were developing plans for restarting work nationwide on its highway project sites.

The Gully route cuts through the hills beside the existing State Highway 1. FILE
SUPPLIEDThe Gully route cuts through the hills beside the existing State Highway 1. FILE

Billions-worth of highway projects around New Zealand  – including the long sought-after Transmission Gully – were shut down during Level 4.

Thackwray said the planning, in tandem with the Government, covered how work would restart during different alert levels, while following coronavirus restrictions and protections for workers and road users. 

It was too early to say when work might resume on specific capital projects or non-essential highway maintenance activity he said, speaking before the Government announced Level 4 would end on April 27.

The agency did not answer questions on whether sufficient staff were even available to work on Transmission Gully once it was allowed to restart. It could not say what effect the delay would have on planned penalties, including a $10m penalty if the road was not opened by December 18.

Works stopped on Transmission Gully at the start of the level 4 lockdown. FILE
ROSS GIBLINWorks stopped on Transmission Gully at the start of the level 4 lockdown. FILE

As previously reported by Stuff, a Transmission Gully contractor, who did not wish to be named, said work was likely to be delayed even before lockdown because staff were leaving “in droves”. Many Australian staff due to return from their days off decided to quit rather than be stuck in New Zealand. 

Thackwray said the Level 4 shutdown “and other effects of Covid-19” would likely have an impact on the completion dates for many projects.

“But it is too early to say what the impact may be for individual projects.”

About $1.3b worth of roading work was underway on State Highway 1 in the Wellington region – split between the billion-dollar Transmission Gully project and the northern section of the Kāpiti expressway.

Transmission Gully roading works at Pauatahanui. FILE
ROSS GIBLIN/STUFFTransmission Gully roading works at Pauatahanui. FILE

The Peka Peka to Ōtaki section of the expressway was initially expected to open this year but is now planned to open early next year. 

Transmission Gully, planned in one form or another for about a century, was initially expected to open this month – then, pre-coronavirus, was planned to open by November.

After this date late penalties would kick in for the contracted builder, including a $10m penalty if the road is not opened by December 18.

Construction began in 2015 on the 27 kilometre-long road, connecting Linden in north Wellington to just north of Paekākāriki on the Kāpiti Coast​.

Once both sections are opened there will be four lanes running continuously from north of Ōtaki to the Terrace Tunnel, in central Wellington.

The $650m first section of the Kāpiti expressway opened in 2017.

Warning NZ ports may start to seize up this week if non-essential freight can’t be moved

Allowing only essential freight to be transported to businesses by road, not that simple, haulage organisation warns.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/STUFFAllowing only essential freight to be transported to businesses by road, not that simple, haulage organisation warns.

A “pile-up” is looming at the country’s ports that will restrict the movement of food and medical supplies if non-essential freight destined for closed businesses can’t be cleared, Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett has warned.

“All manner” of freight could arrive at the same time on cargo ships, he said.

“We now have a situation where many businesses that receive some of that freight are closed and there is nowhere for it to go,” he said.

“The issue with non-essential goods is you can remove them from the port, but if there’s nobody at the receiving end at work, where do you put them?’

The Government needed to recognise that “all freight must move” during New Zealand’s coronavirus lockdown, and not just essential items, Leggett said.

He forecast “constipation” at the ports and massive problems, if the issue wasn’t addressed.

“This an absolute real live thing.”

Containers need to be cleared and emptied to ensure essential supplies can get in and exports can get out, Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett says.
SUPPLIEDContainers need to be cleared and emptied to ensure essential supplies can get in and exports can get out, Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett says.

​Mainfreight chief executive Don Braid said it wasn’t seeing congestion yet, but the forum was “making good points”.

“Under the lockdown rules, it is not possible to deliver non-essential freight.”

A successful outcome would require “innovative thinking and action”, he said.

“We are attempting to assist the government agencies through this where we can.” 

Leggett said officials at the Transport Ministry had “definitely listened” to the forum’s concerns, but had said the rules stood at this point.

“If it is deemed by the Government to not be essential, it cannot be moved.

“We absolutely appreciate the reasons for that but if we don’t have an ‘all-of supply’ chain solution to this we believe there will be issues in a couple of weeks,” he said.

Transport Ministry supply chain manager Harriet Shelton responded to the forum’s concerns with an update that said its lockdown rules did allow the movement of non-essential goods “if necessary to move or create space for essential goods”.

Leggett said the forum would not have put out its warning lightly at this time.

Reopening closed businesses to accept non-essential freight would “fly in the face” of the reasons for the lockdown, which were to keep as many people home as possible, he said.

“We do appreciate that, but we need a solution.”

Leggett said another problem was that if containers in which non-essential goods were imported were not emptied, there would be a shortage of containers for exported goods going out.

“All freight needs to move during this time to enable the valuable exports that are going out, such as kiwi fruit, access to ports.”

Port of Tauranga says non-essential freight can be stacked next to its terminals but will then take time to retrieve, so it is important essential goods are identified first.
MATT SHAND/STUFFPort of Tauranga says non-essential freight can be stacked next to its terminals but will then take time to retrieve, so it is important essential goods are identified first.

Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association chief executive Rosemary Dawson agreed that the delivery of non-essential cargo remained an issue that would need to be dealt with to avoid congestion. 

“Sea freight was operating fairly normally now,” she said.

But Dawson said she “absolutely” shared some of the concerns expressed by the Road Transport Forum, including with regard to the availability of empty shipping containers.

Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said it had put in place new measures to allow importers to identify imported cargo required for essential services before it arrived in New Zealand “so that it can be handled and transported first”.

It needed the support and co-operation of importers and exporters to help it manage the flow of cargo “and avoid blocking the path of essential food, medicine, equipment and other supplies”, he said.

Mainfreight chief executive Don Braid says the Road Transformation Forum is making good points and innovative thinking will be needed.
CHRIS HUTCHING/STUFFMainfreight chief executive Don Braid says the Road Transformation Forum is making good points and innovative thinking will be needed.

Non-essential imported cargo could be temporarily stored on or off-site until it could be collected by truck or transferred by rail to MetroPort Auckland, he said.

Spokeswoman Rochelle Lockely said non-essential freight could be stored near its terminals in Auckland and Tauranga, but once freight went into that “locked stack” it would not be fast to retrieve, so it was important essential items were identified first.

There was a worldwide shortage of shipping containers because of the disruptions caused to supply chains globally by the coronavirus, but that was not something the port had detailed information on, she said.

The port would not charge extra fees for storing non-essential cargo until April 26, apart from one-off handling charges and for power charges needed to keep refrigerated containers cool, Cairns said.

The Road Transport Forum has suggested that some goods that can’t be delivered to closed businesses could be stored on land owned by Kiwirail, but Leggett believed that could only be part of any remedy.

“Closing down the country to the scale we have now hasn’t been done before and it does reveal some issues that need to be addressed pragmatically,” he said.

To illustrate the problem, Leggett said 14,000 cars were expected to arrive from Asia over the next month.

“Those cars cannot stay on the port; they have to go somewhere. The dealers that would normally take them are closed.

“We appreciate cars are not an essential service, however, they are holding space that is needed for essential goods.

“Our industry is looking at how we could find storage for the freight with nowhere to go, but we need the Government to allow that freight to move,” he said.

Leggett said some truck drivers had been stopped by police and asked what they were doing on the roads.

“Well, they are doing a job and it is one that is essential at a time like this.

“They cannot be forced by the Government to be arbiters of what is essential and non-essential on the back of their truck,” he said.

Stuff

Trucking sector suffering as coronavirus outbreak stalls freight

The coronavirus outbreak in China is having a serious impact on the New Zealand trucking sector, with an industry leader predicting it could get worse.

The National Road Carriers Association (NRC) represents 1800 road transport companies collectively operating 16,000 trucks throughout New Zealand.

Chief Executive, David Aitken said companies which carry exports like logs and meat to ports or Chinese imports to New Zealand warehouses and retailers were feeling the pinch. 

“It’s potentially going to get worse quickly,” said Aitken.

“With Chinese towns and cities in lockdown, many factories are closed and therefore not taking goods, nor producing goods. We are aware of importers who are not able to place orders and expect to run short if production doesn’t get back to normal soon. “This has consequences for our sector,” he said.

A number of forestry operations throughout the country have stopped logging with the Forest Industry Contractors Association reporting about 30 percent of the country’s logging crews are unable to work amid the supply chain disruption and no one knows how long the situation will last. 

“This will have a flow-on effect to truck operators.”

Meat works have reduced kills for the China market meaning farmers are having to keep stock even during the drought conditions we are experiencing, so stock are not being carried to the meat processors, and processed goods are not transported to ships. 

“We understand freezers and chillers are full so this will further affect the processors’ ability to take stock.

“There are also limited goods coming out of China, so the number of containers with goods destined for New Zealand shop shelves is expected to be down. These are just some of the effects, all of which will reduce the number of road transport movements.”

Aitken said NRC was advising its trucking company members to be aware of the situation and plan where possible.

“We are telling trucking companies to do what they can to keep their company infrastructure in place. When this virus blows over, which it will, there will be a mad rush to move goods around again. Chinese people need to eat, and China needs materials to get its industries up and running again.”

Silver Fern Farms chief executive Simon Limmer told RNZ that the company was working hard to try and balance storage and processing capacity.

“It’s a little bit of a perfect storm I guess at the moment because whilst we’ve got big livestock flows, plus the drought really putting pressure on processing capacity, the coronavirus situation has meant we don’t have a lot of confidence to in our ability, or the supply chains ability to get product into China just at the moment.”

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.

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.”