Todd Niall08:22, Apr 29 2019
OPINION: The first instalment of the Government’s trio of reports on re-shaping how the Upper North Island ports work, suggests that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy will look like a snapshot compared with what lies ahead.
A 2017 New Zealand First policy to shift the vehicle import trade from Auckland to Northport by this year, as a prelude to re-locating the city’s port, begat – thanks to co-alition politics – the more cautious “Working Group undertaking the review of Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy”.
Shifting the balance of work between the ports, and building major new transport links would be the country’s biggest-ever infrastructure undertaking – possibly five or more times the current champ, Auckland’s $4.4 billion City Rail Link.
Taken at face value, the picture painted of the current state of the Ports of Auckland, Port of Tauranga, and Northport at Marsden Point, shows a flawed regionally-owned port sector with duplication and competition possibly at the expense of the national interest.
Auckland dominates imports, Tauranga exports, both have 40 per cent of their container traffic empty in one direction, while Northport is a distant minnow, with limited access and 70 per cent owned by the other two.
What began as a plan to free Auckland’s waterfront from an ugly industrial port, to the benefit of Northport, is now as much, if not more, about the transport links between the ports and centres in the upper North Island.
A line highlighted in bold print in the 21-page report, points to the scale of making any change.
“We fundamentally believe that there is no point making further investment in Northport without investment in, and development of, the train line to Auckland.”
Call that billions of dollars, who knows how many, 2 or 5? The report doesn’t say.
Done properly it involves a crosstown section through southern Auckland, a third freight line through the commuter rail-dominated suburbs, electrification and double or triple tracking from West Auckland to Marsden Point with new tunnels along the way and presumably fleets of car-carrying wagons and handling facilities.
Future instalments of the trilogy will explore changing the ownership structure of ports, looking at the low-tax status enjoyed only by Auckland, and getting a clearer picture of future trade patterns.
Who knows what the future of the private motor car will look like in 20 years’ time, when the multi-billion investment needed to relocate the vehicle import trade, is ready to deliver.
The three-part study is an important piece of work, taking a long-term view on making possibly major structural change in transport links in the upper North Island, and its ports.
Part two outlining some options is said to be due as early as June, and part three – recommendations – in September, perhaps unhelpfully a month before the local body politicians who own Auckland’s port, and most of Tauranga’s and Northland’s, face re-election.
The interim report already casts doubt on the idea of building a new super-port either in Auckland’s Manukau Harbour or the Firth of Thames, hinting better use of the three ports may be the answer.
“We consider the issues not insurmountable,” concluded the working group’s interim report optimistically.
What it did not say was, nor are they likely to be simple, anything less than eye-wateringly expensive, and hugely complex.