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.