Auckland port move: Review claims ‘omissions and flawed logic’ in plan to relocate to Northland

The case for moving Auckland’s port business to Northland does not fit the criteria of the working group proposing it, says a new analysis.

A review by Auckland Council said it is not satisfied the move option, recommended by the New Zealand First-driven group, justifies the estimated $10 billion of investment needed.

The council review described an economic case advanced by Ernst and Young as “inscrutable”, because it lacked detail on how it found the re-location made sense.

Ports of Auckland continues to invest in its site, with a hydrogen fuel plant and automated straddles
SUPPLIEDPorts of Auckland continues to invest in its site, with a hydrogen fuel plant and automated straddles

The work by the council, which owns Ports of Auckland and the 77 hectares of waterfront land it operates from, is the most detailed criticism yet of the controversial proposal to wind down the port and transfer its business to Marsden Point, perhaps within a decade. 

“The preferred option appears to be an extremely expensive way to relocate jobs to Northland from Auckland,” said the council analysis.

An aerial view of Ports of Auckland from the east
NONEAn aerial view of Ports of Auckland from the east

The council analysis is of the interim report by the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working group, released in October along with an economic analysis from EY, of the future options for the ports at Marsden Point, Auckland and Tauranga.

The group, backed by EY’s findings, recommended re-locating Auckland’s port to Northland, reflecting New Zealand First’s 2017 election policy, before getting agreement from Labour in the coalition agreement to conduct the UNISCS study

The final report has just gone to the Government and will be considered by cabinet in December.

New Zealand First MP Shane Jones is driving the case to relocate Auckland's port to Northland
TOM LEE/STUFFNew Zealand First MP Shane Jones is driving the case to relocate Auckland’s port to Northland

Analysis of the interim report by Auckland Council’s chief economist unit and its strategy and research department said the re-location option did not meet the principles which the working group established for itself.

It said instead of “cost efficiency”, costs would rise, “maintaining the level of competition” would not be achieved, and removing a key supply point for Auckland would not “maintain or improve the resilience of the supply chain”.

The review disputed the working group’s conclusion that clearing prime waterfront land would be an economic windfall through higher rates for Auckland Council.

“There is no evidence for this – any new activity on the waterfront will likely displace activity elsewhere in the city,” it said.

The council also said the economic case did not seem to take into account the significant spending before any benefits might flow.

“Investment in Northland required to handle Auckland’s freight volumes would need to be complete and operational before any managed closure (in Auckland).

“This means the net benefit is probably much lower than estimated in the report,” said the council review.

The council said the assessed impacts on employment were inconsistent, suggesting few jobs would be lost in Auckland, but 2000 created in Northland.

“A $10 billion project to relocate 2000 jobs is a very expensive way to relocate jobs (roughly $5 million per job),” said Auckland Council.

It also questioned whether the rail infrastructure that would be needed to run more than 100 freight trains a day through Auckland, as well as the truck traffic generated by a freight hub near Kumeu, had been fully assessed.

Another analysis of the EY economic impact report, seen by Stuff, but with the name of the author not disclosed, believed EY and the group might have over-estimated the net economic benefit of the move by nearly four times.

New Zealand First MP, and Associate Transport Minister Shane Jones who is championing the case to relocate to Northport, said he was aware of the differing views.

“There was always doubt about EY’s work (on the move) – but I just consider that to be part of the consultancy gossip chain,” Jones told Stuff. 

The UNISC working party was chaired by Jones’ friend and Northland neighbour, businessman Wayne Brown, who took part in a television interview on TVNZ’s Q&A on Monday night in which several lines said to be from the final report, still unseen by cabinet, were put to him.

Stuff asked Jones whether the interview was appropriate.

“I don’t think it’s disproportionately unorthodox,” said Jones, who had been informed the interview would take place, but said he had not discussed with Brown what should or should not be said.

“Wayne Brown is someone my leader (Winston Peters) and I regard as an incredibly successful businessman, interested in Northland – but he is his own man,” Jones said.

The Government had made no promises on whether the idea proposed by New Zealand First in 2017 will progress.

“We undertook that we would complete the study, and we will,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Stuff in October.

“I am not going to make commitments beyond receiving the final report because we need to see what evidence has ben compiled, and what the report tells us,” Ardern said.

The conduct of the working group’s study has created tension between it and Auckland Council, with sparring between Brown and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff who favoured the gradual redevelopment of the waterfront, but insisted there would need to be a price negotiated. 

Ernst and Young was approached for comment, but declined.


Did KiwiBuild not teach this lot anything?

Duncan Garner 05:00, Nov 16 2019

OPINION: So now Winston Peters and his Government want to move the Ports of Auckland to Whangārei.

Such a small little thing to do that will barely cause much disruption at all. Said no-one ever.

Does anyone have any idea how ginormous this pie-in-the-sky promise really is?

Containers being loaded on to rail wagons at Ports of Auckland. Rail freight is a major part of the proposed expansion of Northport, in Whangārei.
Containers being loaded on to rail wagons at Ports of Auckland. Rail freight is a major part of the proposed expansion of Northport, in Whangārei.

Why? When? Where does the cargo go in the meantime? Has it been done before anywhere in a sane Western nation?

I applaud ambition usually, but this Government doesn’t appear to have a master plan at all. It has a series of massive work plans and ideas whose time may never come.

They being an expert panel who probably have no real idea, but call it a panel and it gets serious. Seriously, with Shane Jones’s wacko performance to farmers and now this out-there port wind-up, no wonder business is rightly nervous.

This port idea is shamelessly the work of Jones and Peters. It’s not just economic nationalism but is regional parochialism at its best – or worst, depending on how the future pans out.

NZ First wants to move Auckland port operations to Northport, in Whangārei.
NORTHPORTNZ First wants to move Auckland port operations to Northport, in Whangārei.

So will the roads be upgraded north of Auckland, and what trains are needed, and how can it be done when we can’t get a passenger rail system to Auckland Airport?

Peters has spoken publicly about the port report like it’s a done deal, and the money will come shortly. But how can this happen so easily if the same Government couldn’t build a few houses for the middle class? Taking the build out of KiwiBuild since election night 2017. 

Also no gain like a capital gain, as in the tax that sunk confidence but never went anywhere. And while we are at it, so much for ETS for farmers, because Labour suddenly froze.

The Whangārei port move is "shamelessly" the work of NZ First deputy Winston Peters and his colleague Shane Jones, writes Duncan Garner.
LAWRENCE SMITH/STUFFThe Whangārei port move is “shamelessly” the work of NZ First deputy Winston Peters and his colleague Shane Jones, writes Duncan Garner.

Anyway, the prime minister would hardly say boo about sinking the ports of Auckland into northern waters for fear of saying the wrong thing.

She hadn’t seen the report, but an hour later Winston was word for word all about it. So why was he all over it and the country’s most high-profile Auckland MP, who happens to be the PM, didn’t know anything. Is it deliberate and, if so, let’s drag her deep and demand answers.

It’s not a Government scared of trying anything and everything. Something has to work soon, if not in education, then health. If those then fail, maybe it’s in tax reform, but we know that answer, so maybe it’s on climate reform. Oh yes, the Zero Carbon Bill. That’ll do it.

Duncan Garner: "I applaud ambition usually, but this Government doesn't appear to have a master plan at all. It has a series of massive work plans and ideas whose time may never come."
SUPPLIEDDuncan Garner: “I applaud ambition usually, but this Government doesn’t appear to have a master plan at all. It has a series of massive work plans and ideas whose time may never come.”

I think this Government is dreaming, even on some of the small stuff. Standards and credibility matter, and they need to get busy, but they need to be believable.

Their eyes are bigger than their stomachs, and I wonder how much voters can digest if it’s a repeat next year.


Andrew Dickens: Latest ports proposal is rooted in politics

A leaked report has found that the Ports of Auckland should be moved to Whangarei.

The report details how the freight operation at Ports of Auckland is no longer economically or environmentally viable. It also says that if Auckland and Northport can’t reach a commercial agreement within 12 months, then the Government should introduce new legislation to force the move.

That’s a big call. A really big call.

To recreate a wharf operation 150 kilometres away from where it already exists is going to cost a pretty penny.  It makes dams and tunnels and trains that we’ve built so far look like children’s sandcastles.

To make it work for the next 100 years would require road and rail upgrades in the billions. Wharves and cranes in the billions. Processing and inland ports in the billions.  It would exponentially increase the traffic and congestion between Auckland and Whangarei.

Yet the executive summary tries to suggest it would cost just $10 billion.

Now I understand the capacity constraints the Auckland wharf is under and as the city continues to expand its population that capacity constraint will be exceeded uncomfortably.  But this suggestion seems half-baked.

And considering its implications you have to wonder who decided that this extreme course of action is needed and that if it doesn’t happen then the government has to step into commercial companies and tell them how to run their business.

Well the working group that is making this huge claim is chaired by former Northland Mayor Wayne Brown.  Now Mr Brown is a very skilled technocrat who has produced reports on all sorts of state organisations, and I’m not suggesting that he has cooked this report to suit his region. 

But appearances are important and having a Northland politician advocating that the biggest infrastructural investment in New Zealand should happen in his patch still has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce head Michael Barnett didn’t swallow that this morning on TV either, calling the idea political and not business. And we know politics always ruins and slows our infrastructure which is why our infrastructure is so bad and compromised.

That’s why an Infrastructure Commission has been formed.  It has a chairman in Alan Bollard and announcements shortly will come on how it will operate and what its remit will be.

When it comes to things like moving ports, the thinking needs to be free of any stain of politics whether real or implied. It needs to make sense now, in 10 years’ time, in 50 years’ time and in 100 years’ time. It needs to be made by unbiased experts not local body politicians

This is why I’m not buying this idea at this time.

3000 heavy vehicle certificates revoked in 2019 so far

Three thousand truck and heavy vehicle certifications have been revoked this year, compared to just five in total two years ago.

Stock image of someone inspecting a truck.

New figures show 67 heavy vehicle owners have had low safety risks identified in towing connections since last December. Photo:

The surge began last year when 2000 were revoked and is mostly pegged to the belated detection of poor work by two certifying engineers in Nelson and Auckland, Peter Wastney and Patrick Chu, according to the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).

It expected numbers to drop “dramatically” once it finished investigations that had gone on for two years and as it carried on with more rigourous monitoring, NZTA said.

Numbers of heavy vehicle certifications revoked

  • 1 Dec 2018 to present: 3186
  • 1 Dec 2017 to 31 Nov 2018: 2103
  • 1 Dec 2016 to 31 Nov 2017: 5

Other new figures show 67 heavy vehicle owners have had low safety risks identified in towing connections since last December, and been told to get them checked.

Ten light vehicle owners had risks around repairs detected, and half of these certifications were revoked.

And 71,000 vehicle owners were alerted to potential safety risks related to a warrant of fitness issued by a suspended garage.

Sixteen thousand owners were contacted about a product recall over airbag risks.

The agency also elaborated on its investigation of chassis problems with trucks that followed on from the towing connection investigations, saying it told its licensed certifiers to submit files under its earlier regulatory compliance review that ended in mid-2019.

“These files formed the basis of the desktop review that is ongoing, and the basis for certain vehicle inspections, which are ongoing”.

Also, minimum standards for such files were introduced this year, and it was reviewing files to check on that.

Government has given NZTA an extra $45m after damning ‘wake-up call’ report

Transport Minister Phil Twyford today released the NZ Transport Agency's regulatory review. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Transport Minister Phil Twyford today released the NZ Transport Agency’s regulatory review. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Jason Walls

By: Jason WallsJason Walls is a political reporter for the New Zealand

The Government will inject the New Zealand Transport Agency with an extra $45 million after an independent report concluded it had failed in one of its major responsibilities.

But the Government blames National for the failures in the transport sector that led to Transport Minister Phil Twyford commissioning an independent report investigating NZTA.

The review, undertaken by agency Martin Jenkins, found that previous transport ministers had directed NZTA to “focus on building roads” at the expense of keeping people safe.

The report also found that NZTA had failed to properly regulate the transport sector under the previous Government.

In response to the review, the Government has confirmed it will adopt all of its recommendations and plans to implement them as soon as possible.

The recommendations include:

• Injecting NZTA with an extra $45 million to help bolster its regulatory obligations
• Create a statutory Director of Land Transport who is responsible for carrying out NZTA’s regulatory functions and powers
• Getting NZTA’s board to develop a new regulatory strategy
• Instructing the Ministry of Transport to update the NZTA’s regulatory objectives

Twyford said these changes would help to equip NZTA for the massive transformation the agency will undergo in the coming years.

Ministry of Transport chief executive Peter Mersi welcomed the report and its findings this morning.

“As [the] monitor of transport Crown agencies, we share responsibility for the regulatory failure.”

He said the report was a “wake-up call” for the ministry.

In November last year, Twyford directed the Ministry of Transport to review the performance NZTA’s regulatory functions.

The review comes on the back of a number of concerns which emerged around NZTA’s regulatory function and a backlog of compliance cases that have not been properly managed.

“When this issue was brought to my attention I was seriously concerned about the scope and seriousness of the failures that have occurred,” Twyford said at the time.

Truck driving losing its appeal, survey reports

A trucking survey is pointing to low pay, long hours and driver monitoring as reasons why some drivers are leaving the industry.

First Union has carried out its In It For The Long-Haul survey involving 384 truck drivers, union and non-union employees and contractors.

The survey was conducted by person-to-person interviews at locations throughout New Zealand. Results reveal an ageing workforce and a number of drivers who say the job isn’t attractive as it once was.

The survey reveals that 2.9% of drivers are younger than 25 and 73.5% are 45 or older. This is consistent with international trends pointing towards a growing shortage of truck drivers.

First Union divisional secretary Jared Abbott says the results confirm pay, hours and the intensification of driver scrutiny are the reasons people are leaving the industry.

“So many of our sectors rely on truck drivers to keep businesses running, so many of the products and services we use and consume everyday have been delivered by a truck, this needs to be a wakeup call.

When asked why they were leaving the industry, pay, long hours and driver monitoring were the most mentioned reasons (pay 80.4%, long hours, 51.7%, driver monitoring, 41.9%).

Abbott says that truck driving is becoming less appealing and the reasons for this need to be addressed.

“More importantly, we have been warning about the industry becoming less appealing due to pay packets that seem to be stuck in neutral and invasive in cab cameras.

“Pay is not what it used to be and drivers are under more pressure to work even longer hours to make up for the inadequate pay.

“Further, we really need to ask whether driver facing cameras are having a positive effect on health and safety at all. With increased anxiety amongst drivers adding to fatigue and experienced drivers leaving the industry, how can this be positive?”

NZTA release new heavy vehicle standards

The NZ Transport Agency has released new performance based standards (PBS) for non-standard heavy vehicles to meet the safety performance requirements equivalent to standard vehicles.

The safety performance requirements for a standard heavy vehicle are contained in the Vehicle Dimensions and Mass Rule 2016 (VDAM).

However, alternative heavy vehicle combinations such as high productivity motor vehicles have to be carefully designed to make sure they meet the principle set by the VDAM rule – that they are as safe as a standard vehicle.

PBS are used to assess whether a non-standard heavy vehicle will be safe to operate on the road.

Safety is primarily determined by how the vehicle fits on the road and its ability to take avoidance manoeuvres at speed without losing control.

Previously, PBS were largely based on standards developed overseas. The new PBS are better suited to New Zealand’s more frequently narrow and winding roads.

NZTA regulatory general manager Kane Patena says the new PBS encourage better design and safer performance on the network.

“In particular they’ll exhibit improved tracking within a lane on tight curves and allow productivity improvements such as being able to simultaneously cart a 20 and 40-foot ISO container. The new PBS will enhance safety while maintaining, or even improving, productivity.

“The new PBS provide a transparent and consistent process for assessing non-standard heavy vehicles. They’ll provide certainty to the industry on what truck configurations they can put on the road, particularly for the new high productivity motor vehicle fleet.”

The new PBS were developed in consultation with industry representatives. The standards were internationally peer reviewed and extensive computer modelling was undertaken, which was then validated by practical on-road trials.

*The new PBS are available here.

Shane Jones lobbied for trucking firm to be allowed to bypass hiring in NZ first

In public, Shane Jones plays the role of a populist, repeatedly railing against the use of migrant labour.

But it has emerged that in 2018, Jones privately lobbied a Cabinet colleague on behalf of an associate who was seeking accredited employer status from Immigration New Zealand.

The high profile NZ First MP appears to have done so after he had been briefed that the company, owned by former Whangārei Mayor Stan Semenoff, faced investigation by the safety regulator which could see it ordered off the road. Jones has also become involved in that case, raising accusations of interfering with a government prosecution.

Conferred by Immigration New Zealand, accredited employer statuswould have streamlined the process of hiring migrants for Stan Semenoff Logging, a large Northland log truck company, such as bypassing the need to check if Kiwi workers are available when hiring.

In written Parliamentary questions, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said Jones visited him in his Beehive office on August 20 to raise Semenoff’s application for accredited employer status.

It appears the meeting was unscheduled.

If the status had been granted, Semenoff could have hired foreign truck drivers “without first having to check if any New Zealanders can do the work”, according to Immigration New Zealand’s website.

In March Shane Jones raised action being taken by the New Zealand Transport Authority against Stan Semenoff Logging with the regulator's chief executive. It has now emerged that Jones approached Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway about the company's struggle to gain status which would have made it easier for Semenoff to hire migrant workers.
HAGEN HOPKINS/GETTY IMAGESIn March Shane Jones raised action being taken by the New Zealand Transport Authority against Stan Semenoff Logging with the regulator’s chief executive. It has now emerged that Jones approached Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway about the company’s struggle to gain status which would have made it easier for Semenoff to hire migrant workers.

In return, accredited employers “must take direct responsibility for the workers you employ” and pay a base salary of at least $55,000.

It does not appear that Jones’ efforts to assist Semenoff were – or even could have been – successful.

Lees-Galloway checked with Immigration New Zealand and was told the application had been turned down four days before Jones met him.

“This decision was an operational one …[which] is not subject to Ministerial Discretion or other override.”

After an official from Jones’ office wrote seeking an update, Lees-Galloway’s office later called Jones “to explain that I had no ability to override the decision”.

Days earlier, Jones and some of his ministerial colleagues had been briefed on NZTA’s possible action against Semenoff, which came to a head earlier this year.

Jones and Semenoff have both spoken publicly about the fact that they are related in the past, although Jones has recently downplayed how close the link is as he faced questions about becoming involved in the case of the transport regulator against Semenoff’s company.

Stan Semenoff, pictured when he was Mayor of Whangarei. The logging truck company owner is facing action by NZTA which could see his fleet forced off the road.
WHANGAREI LEADERStan Semenoff, pictured when he was Mayor of Whangarei. The logging truck company owner is facing action by NZTA which could see his fleet forced off the road.

Jones did not respond to requests for an interview or provide answers to written questions.

In a statement, Lees-Galloway said Jones’ approach was “not out of the ordinary”. MPs often approached him about immigration cases “because of the availability of Ministerial discretion” however no such discretion existed in the area Jones raised.

Earlier this year Jones stepped into a legal battle between Semenoff and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), which has taken action to revoke operating licences because of persistent safety concerns.

Jones raised the case directly with the chief executive of NZTA, while in a media interview, Jones warned of the potential economic ramifications if Semenoff is not able to operate. The company accounts for around half of all logging transport in the province.

In Parliament, Jones has made cryptic comments suggesting that NZTA’s lawyers have attempted to turn Filipino drivers into “pimps” or “informants”.

In August Shane Jones turned up to the office of Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway and raised Stan Semenoff Loggings' application to Immigration New Zealand for accredited employer status.
MONIQUE FORD/STUFFIn August Shane Jones turned up to the office of Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway and raised Stan Semenoff Loggings’ application to Immigration New Zealand for accredited employer status.

The case between NZTA and Semenoff returns to court in Auckland on Monday, after the trucking company won the right to challenge a decision by the regulator.

National’s regional economic development spokesman Paul Goldsmith said the meeting with Lees-Galloway was another example of Jones attempting to help Semenoff and should be explained in greater detail.

“It seems to be part of a pattern of inexplicable extra attention to this particular firm from Jones and I do think he needs to explain it a bit more,” Goldsmith said.

“There is a pattern now emerging of numerous attempts by the Minister [Jones] to lobby on their behalf, knowing that there was a pending investigation by NZTA,” Goldsmith said.

National Party economic development spokesman Paul Goldsmith said Shane Jones had attempted to help Stan Semenoff on multiple occasions and should give more details.
ROBYN EDIENational Party economic development spokesman Paul Goldsmith said Shane Jones had attempted to help Stan Semenoff on multiple occasions and should give more details.

The Mayor and the Minister

Jones and Semenoff have talked about each other repeatedly.

Back in 2009, Jones explained away a $2000 donation from Semenoff, then the mayor of Whangārei, as a koha from “my mother’s cousin”.

Within weeks of becoming a junior minister in the Helen Clark Government in 2008 (during his first term as an MP), Jones issued an official statement as Building and Construction Minister, shooting down Semenoff’s reported claims that extractor fans were compulsory in new homes.

In 2010, at around the same time as Jones was mired in an embarrassing expense scandal, Semenoff was “thrown out” (his words) as mayor of New Zealand’s northernmost city.

Three years later, he talked big words as he bid to get his job back, insisting his removal had delayed the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway.

He also talked up his friends in Wellington.

“This is why I talk about, we’ve got to get closer to the government of the day,” he said.

“If my cuzzie Shane [Jones], which we are cousins, should make the mark, we’ll certainly cuddle up to him.”

When Jones was asked about his relationship with Semenoff this year, his office briefly denied he had received a donation. It then played down the closeness of the relationship.

Semenoff’s “great, great grandmother is my mother’s great, great, great grandmother”, Jones said in Parliament. The pair shared a common ancestor in Victorian times, he said later.


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.”