Moving Auckland’s port – the curtain rises

Todd Niall08:22, Apr 29 2019

The future of a possible long-term shift of Auckland's port trade could be clearer with the Government's third report in September
SUPPLIEDThe future of a possible long-term shift of Auckland’s port trade could be clearer with the Government’s third report in September

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.

Major new rail freight links would be a prerequisite to a major shift of trade handled by the upper North Island's three ports.
SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFFMajor new rail freight links would be a prerequisite to a major shift of trade handled by the upper North Island’s three ports.

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.

Marsden Point's Northport is where New Zealand First favours shifting trade from Auckland
SUPPLIED/NORTHPORTMarsden Point’s Northport is where New Zealand First favours shifting trade from Auckland

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. 

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.

Independent commissioners grant consent for Queens Wharf upgrade

Consent has been granted for the upgrade. Photo / File
Consent has been granted for the upgrade. Photo / File

NZ Herald

Independent commissioners have granted consent to build the $10 million extension to Queens Wharf which will provide berthage for large cruise ships.

The 90-metre fixed gangway extension and two 15m by 15m concrete mooring structures fixed to the seabed, known as dolphin, is now set to go ahead.

The wharf can currently provide for cruise ships up to 294m and the dolphins will allow for ships of up to 362m.

Panuku Development Auckland lodged the resource consent application in July last year, which was followed by public submissions and five days of hearings.

Yesterday, the panel of three announced their decision to grant resource consent for the dolphins, subject to certain conditions.

“The proposal by Panuku that the occupation consent for the dolphins expire once Captain Cook Wharf is operational as a large cruise ship berth, or in 15 years’ time (whichever is the earlier), and that the structures are then removed, was a key feature of the application that weighed in its favour,” they said.

Artist impression of proposed mooring dolphins at the end of Queen's Wharf. Photo / Supplied
Artist impression of proposed mooring dolphins at the end of Queen’s Wharf. Photo / Supplied

Numerous community and urban design groups have been fighting to stop the dolphin proposal, opposing further expansion of the harbour for port use.

Stop Stealing Our Harbour spokesman Michael Goldwater said allowing consent to be given was a disappointing outcome.

“We should be using existing infrastructure to berth these boats,” he told Newstalk ZB.

“This resource consent outcome is a failure of leadership by Mayor Goff and Auckland Council who have valued corporate welfare for the cruise industry over the long term wellbeing of our harbour.

Goldwater highlighted the potential environmental impact the extension could have on the harbour as a major concern.

However, the commissioners believed the impacts could be “avoided, remedied or mitigated” to an acceptable level.

Panuku Development chief operating officer David Rankin said the decision was being welcomed by the organisation.

The decision will enable to necessary infrastructure for the cruise industry to ensure continued growth to the sector, he said.

“The decision has thrown a lifeline to the cruise industry, which is facing increasing pressure from international ports to compete as larger ships continue to enter the market,” he said.

Queens Wharf deck and dolphin arrangement layout plan. Photo / Supplied Punuku Development, Auckland Council
Queens Wharf deck and dolphin arrangement layout plan. Photo / Supplied Punuku Development, Auckland Council

“Our growing cruise ship industry provides significant economic benefits to Auckland businesses; last year cruise ships transported nearly 270,000 passengers directly to the heart of our city providing a boost to the $200 million and 3000 local jobs that the cruise industry adds to the region’s economy.”

New Zealand Cruise Association chief executive Kevin O’Sullivan also agreed the decision was an important win for the local industry.

“It will ensure that Auckland will continue to be an important and integral part of regional cruise tourism,” he said.

“The provision of infrastructure for these larger cruise ships in Auckland will integrate well into the considerable development of infrastructure of large ships which has been carried out in other New Zealand ports.”

Following the decision from the commissioners, an appeal period is now open until May 15 for those who made submissions on the application.

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.

Tauranga leaders say port will thrive regardless of Auckland decision

Port of Tauranga. Photo / File
Port of Tauranga. Photo / File

By: Jean BellJean is a multimedia journalist for the Bay of Plenty Timesjean.bell@nzme.co.nzbay_times

Tauranga’s port will continue to “flourish” regardless of whether Auckland’s port moves, city leaders say.

But some warned infrastructure investment was needed to make that happen.

The comments come as the Government is poised to make a big call on whether or not to shift Auckland’s port to the economically-deprived region of Northland.

It followed New Zealand First leader Winston Peters vowing to move Ports of Auckland up north in 2017 and a Labour-led coalition Government leading a study into the three Upper North Island ports with a focus on moving Ports of Auckland to Northport at Marsden Point.

An interim report on that study by a working group headed by Wayne Brown, a former Far North mayor, had been provided to ministers and was due to go to Cabinet shortly.

Ports of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said nobody had seen the recommendations yet, but he believed Tauranga’s port would continue to perform well whatever the outcome was.

He believed the port’s strong growth would continue due to Tauranga’s location as the origin of a majority of the goods exported out of the port are located south of Auckland, not north.

The port owned a half share of Northport, he said.

Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless said if the shift happened, it would not happen for some time.

Tauranga’s port would become busier if it did, due to its good reputation throughout Australasia, he said.

He did not think any increase in activity at the port would be short-lived as it had the capacity for double the number of containers currently moved there.

Congestion caused by inadequate roading would become an issue if Tauranga’s port did get busier, so investment into the city’s state highway, roading and rail network would be vital to cater for any increased freight activity around the city, he said.

He said the port would need to ensure the benefit would be shared with the community.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council regional transport committee chairman Stuart Crosby said it was too early guess what the impact would be, but he was confident Tauranga’s port would continue to operate successfully regardless of what happened up north.

“We have the best operating port in Australasia and it will continue to flourish in the future.”

The Government, however, did need to invest “billions of dollars” in infrastructure to keep up with the port’s development.

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.

KiwiRail struggles to meet upgrade funding goals

KiwiRail’s plans to upgrade its network are running into funding obstacles.

The first passenger train on the newly reopened Coastal Pacific Rail Line arrives in Christchurch from Picton.

A passenger train on passenger train on Coastal Pacific Rail Line arrives in Christchurch from Picton. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Newly released documents show its attempts to get money from the Provincial Growth Fund have not all been successful, with officials warning the fund may not be able to support the level of funding the rail company wants.

These include plans to run a daily service between Auckland and Wellington and a request to fund “core capital requirements” in the regions.

In last year’s budget KiwiRail sought $300 million to fund two years projects to upgrade its ageing network and rolling stock.

The government approved $185m, saying the remaining amount would be provided from the Provincial Growth Fund.

In subsequent discussions with the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, officials warned KiwiRail “the fund may not be able to support this level of funding”.

KiwiRail subsequently received $50m, leaving it $65m short of the $115m it had hoped to get.

However, it would not discuss the shortfall, saying the money it asked for was over two years and any future funding was budget-sensitive.

KiwiRail said using the fund to pay for working capital met the fund’s criteria because an efficient rail network is essential for regional economic development and productivity.

“Part of KiwiRail’s network which do not have commercial volumes sufficient to cover capital costs have been in a state of managed decline for some time,” the company said in a statement.

“The PGF investment will allow capital works and maintenance costs for lines south of Christchurch, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, the West Coast and eastern Bay of Plenty, with additional work across other parts of regional New Zealand.”

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, who oversees the fund, said an important proportion of the fund was dedicated to KiwiRail but the state-owned enterprise was not going to be able to fund all of its aspirations through it.

Instead KiwiRail was going to have to work with Treasury in order to secure long-term capital.

Mr Jones said there was only so much the fund could spend on KiwiRail in the provinces, and he had made that clear to KiwiRail.

“We’ve got a limited number of dollars for provincial rail growth and I’ve said to KiwiRail staff and in particular the new chair of KiwiRail, Mr Greg Miller, that we’re going to have to ration in terms of access to the Provincial Growth Fund,” he said.

New Zealand First MP Shane Jones answering media questions

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Getting money from the fund was a competitive process – something Mr Jones said he was constantly reminded of.

“It’s fair to say that the officials on a regular basis are warning the first citizen of the provinces that there are a host of other infrastructure projects, not the least of which is the $130m allocated to upgrade the roads around Tairāwhiti, Northland and part of the Bay of Plenty,” he said.

“KiwiRail, whilst important, is not the exclusive recipient,” he said.

However, he stressed that KiwiRail was not out of favour with the government.

“I wouldn’t say that KiwiRail is raiding the fund but, put it this way, they’ve been starved of capital for so long and they know that my leader [Winston Peters] and I … are very much pro-KiwiRail people. As far as we’re concerned, KiwiRail are in favour with this government.”

Tourism

In July last year KiwiRail sought $185m from the Provincial Growth Fund to upgrade services on its tourist routes including the Northern Explorer (Auckland to Wellington), Coastal Pacific (Picton to Christchurch) and TranzAlpine (Christchurch to Greymouth).

Northern Explorer crossing the Hapuwhenua Viaduct

Northern Explorer crossing the Hapuwhenua Viaduct Photo: Kiwirail

The state-owned enterprise argued the extra services would double the spend by rail passengers from $100m currently to $220m by 2027 across the Waikato, Ruapehu, Manawatū-Whanganui, Marlborough, Kaikōura regions and the West Coast. It would also double the number of tourism jobs rail supports, from 863 to 1906 over the same period.

Although the government announced $80m to upgrade services on the Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine, there was no such announcement about the Northern Explorer.

In a statement KiwiRail said its original proposal was for a package of tourism investments of up to $185m, including a bi-directional daily Northern Explorer service – up from three days a week it currently operates.

The view from KiwiRail's Coastal Pacific train, just south of Kaikōura.

The view from KiwiRail’s Coastal Pacific train, just south of Kaikōura. Photo: Great Journeys of New Zealand / Facebook

“Following consultation with officials, a second lower-cost package focusing on key investment regions was submitted, which provided for additional capacity, premium services, platform upgrades and international marketing for the TranzAlpine and Coastal Pacific Great Journeys of New Zealand,” KiwiRail said in a statement.

Mr Jones said the government was looking for more information before it would sign off on plans to extend the Northern Explorer service.

“Investing in the Northern Explorer requires investment in a different type of trains and locomotives than the South Island trains and would involve a significant additional investment. The key rail investment in the North Island in 2018 is a logistics hub near Palmerston North,” he said.

Maersk: Massive Innovative Solutions Must Happen in Next 5-10 Years

At the end of last year, the world’s largest shipping company Maersk revealed plans on becoming a carbon neutral company by 2050.

The efforts are in line with the shipping industry’s push to halve its carbon footprint by 2050 compared to 2008.

“We do not by net-zero refer to off-setting CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. By committing to this target, we believe we will drive the transformation of the shipping industry towards use of carbon-neutral fuels,” the company said in its sustainability report for 2018.

Maersk believes that efficiency can only keep shipping emissions stable, not reduce or eliminate them.

“Nevertheless, until decarbonisation is achieved, decoupling business growth from emissions is a necessity, and we have set an efficiency target of 60% relative reduction in CO2 by 2030 from a 2008 baseline. With these targets, we are breaking the mould for climate targets and ambitions in the shipping industry.”

Maersk had set a target of 60% relative reductions by 2020, using a 2007 baseline. By the end of 2018, the company reached 47% reduction since 2007.

These have been achieved through massive investments in optimizing fleet efficiency, with technical retrofittings including capacity boost, new bulbous bows, propellers and engine modifications, as well as by improving planning and optimizing of networks.

However, as explained, this is not enough to reach 60% in two years’ time.

Hence, the company pointed out that massive innovative solutions and fuel transformation must take place in the next 5-10 years.

“Over the last four years alone, we have invested USD 1 billion and engaged 50+ engineers each year in developing and deploying energy efficiency solutions. We expect this investment level to be sustained in pursuit of our new targets. Efficiency gains do not, however, solve the climate change problem. That can only be achieved through decarbonization,” the company said.


Transformation of the 100-Year Old Business Model

Transforming the shipping industry which has run on relatively cheap, heavy fuel for 100 years is not an easy task. In addition to new ship designs and engine types, there is a need for new types of fuel as well as building entire new supply chains for these new solutions, Maersk insists.

“All of this breakthrough innovation will have to take place in the 2020s and is more than any single company can do,” the company adds.

As a result, the shipping major urges all parties involved to collaborate on incentives and development of innovative solutions to usher in  the age of zero-carbon vessels.

“We want to begin a dialogue with cargo owners, regulators, researchers, investors and technology developers, and together set the foundation for a sustainable industry,” Maersk said, pointing out that research and development will be the cornerstone in decarbonizing the shipping industry.

The Pursuit of Solutions Must Begin Now

Zero-emission, commercially-viable vessels must be on the water by 2030, Maersk believes, especially due to the 20-25-year lifetime of a vessel.

“This should be followed by an initial slow ramping up, allowing maturing of technology and supply chain in order to be able to turn around our entire fleet for net-zero carbon emissions in 2050. This leaves us and the industry only eleven years to find the right solutions for a positive business case for decarbonization.

“For the next few years, it is very important not to rule out any solutions. There are several promising technologies at various stages of development. All solutions will come with benefits and challenges to be overcome and only by actively partnering, collaborating and undertaking research and development will we know which ones will win out. There are several technologies and fuels being developed these years within the areas such as advanced biofuels and hydrogen-based fuels.”

Maersk said that it has already engaged in research and test programs in some of these technologies, for example sustainable biofuels.

“Over the coming years, we will expand the range of solutions we are investigating. This will prepare us for selecting a few candidates we will pursue for the first carbon-neutral vessels.

” Our 2030 efficiency target is strong enough to ensure that we continue to decouple CO2 emission levels from growth in trade and volumes shipped. With this target, we will not exacerbate our contribution to climate change while we grow our business, serve global trade and support job creation.”

Container shipping companies cleared in U.S. Investigation

in International Shipping News 27/02/2019

The world’s two biggest container shipping companies on Tuesday said they have been cleared in an investigation of the sector by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ).

Denmark’s Maersk and Switzerland’s Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) were among several companies ordered to testify in an antitrust investigation that began in 2017 over practices by an industry that is the backbone of world trade.

Other lines included Germany’s Hapag Lloyd.

Container companies, which transport everything from TVs to bananas, have tried reduce costs through alliances to pool sailing schedules and port calls. Critics say this can lead to reduced services and increased prices for customers.

Privately-owned MSC, which is the world’s No.2 line, said it had been informed by the DoJ that the department had closed its investigation into MSC and the global container shipping industry without bringing charges or imposing penalties.

“This is an important decision where the global container shipping industry has, once again, been fully investigated and exonerated,” the company said in its statement on Tuesday.

A.P. Moller Maersk confirmed that the DoJ had closed its investigation and had released Maersk from any obligations under the Grand Jury subpoenas issued in March 2017.

Camilla Jain Holtse, A.P. Moller Maersk’s head of competition law and policy, said the company had provided full cooperation throughout the investigation.

A spokesman for Hapag Lloyd declined to comment.

The investigation could have resulted in large fines at a time when the container sector is struggling with slowing global economic growth.

Last week Maersk warned that trade headwinds would slow container demand growth this year, sending its shares down 10 percent. The stock was down 2.3 percent at 1343 GMT on Tuesday and Hapag Lloyd was down 2.8 percent.

The U.S. investigation followed separate cases in other jurisdictions in recent years.

In 2016 European Union antitrust regulators accepted an offer from Maersk and 13 competitors to change their pricing practices to stave off possible fines.