A working group report looking at the feasibility of relocating the Ports of Auckland is expected soon

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Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones says he’s expecting to receive a report in the next four to six weeks which could have major ramifications for the future of the Ports of Auckland.

The paper will be from the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working group which the government established last year to look at the development and delivery of a freight and logistics in the country’s Upper North Island. It has also been tasked with investigating the feasibility of relocating the Ports of Auckland to Northport in Whangarei.

The group is being chaired by former Far North Mayor Wayne Brown and includes KiwiRail chairman Greg Miller, who Jones describes as an international expert in logistics, as well as Susan Krumdieck, Shane Vuletich, Sarah Sinclair and Noel Coom.

The New Zealand First MP says he remains committed to seeing Whangarei’s Northport grow and he’s keen to see the working group’s findings.

“Obviously the officials and ministers have to chew it over and no doubt further work will follow from it,” Jones says. “We need to be confident about what the options are. We’re very keen to see a transfer of economic activity from the Ports of Auckland further north. It was something we campaigned on, but the mathematical reality is we only got 7% of the vote so that means we can’t deliver everything in our manifesto.”

He says the working group report will also look at a number of other issues, including the Port of Tauranga, Northport, KiwiRail and access to the ports.

But Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says the Ports of Auckland is an important asset for the council and the people of Auckland and any decision to move it or its operations shouldn’t be taken lightly.

He says it has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in it over the years and it returns a healthy dividend to the Auckland Council as its owner.

“We accept that at some point the growth of freight into Auckland will outgrow the land available for the Port,” Goff says. “We understand also that moving the Port will free up access to the foreshore and some valuable land that can be used to meet the needs of Aucklanders in other ways.

“However, the Port is also a critical lifeline of freight into our city which is vital to our social and economic well-being.

He says before the Ports of Auckland, or any of its operations are moved, it’s important that there’s a strong business case supporting it.

“That decision needs to be evidence, rather than politically, based and the costs of alternative infrastructure and the impact on the cost of goods reaching Auckland need to be carefully and objectively calculated.”

And he says before any agreement is reached it’s important that the Auckland Council, on behalf of the city, has its say.

“The decision needs to take into account the city, the region and the country’s best interests. I called for a regional port study long before the change in Government and I welcome the work being undertaken to demonstrate what the best outcome will be.

“As I said to the Port’s working group, this is a really serious exercise and all of us need to be confident that the assessment of alternative port sites is thorough, impartial and objective. That’s just common sense.”

Jones says he can understand Auckland Mayor Phil Goff’s opposition to talk of moving the Ports of Auckland to Whangarei.

He says the fact the Auckland Council receives an annual dividend of $51.1 million from it means it will be hard for Goff to see it go. But Jones says he’s not concerned about comments from Goff that the working party’s findings will be predetermined.

“Phil’s a politician and he’s got a track record of letting his tongue run away from him.”

In 2016 the Auckland Council formed a working group to look at the long term options for the Ports of Auckland. The resulting Port Future Study said that the port would face problems going forward due to its location and states:

“Capacity will constrain the port’s ability to meet future freight and cruise [ship] demands, which may limit economic growth in the long term. Tension between, and competition for, limited resources for the CBD and POAL will lead to sub-optimal outcomes for one or both.”

The report identified two potential locations for a new port at either the Manukau Harbour or the Firth of Thames which it said should be investigated.

The Auckland Council outlined its concerns about the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working group in a letter to it late last year.

“Considerable resources and time were invested in Auckland’s Port Future Study. We are concerned that adequate resources appear not to be available in this current work, despite the much larger scope and the substantial requirement for a detailed, technical evidence base.”

It said the two relocation options for the port highlighted in the Port Future Study should be considered by the working group.

“Indicating a strong preference for relocation of some or all of POAL activities to Northport prior to any analysis is unhelpful. In particular it is concerning that the Manukau and Firth of Thames options identified in the Port Future Study, have been dismissed prior to any robust evidence of viable alternatives. These options were recommended for detailed analysis after considerable work by the Port Future Study and cannot be lightly dismissed.

“Possible relocation of Auckland’s Port, which is in your Terms of Reference, would involve expenditure of billions of dollars. It is important that all credible options for relocation be examined before a decision of such magnitude is made.”

Despite the obvious tensions between Jones and Goff over their preferences for the Ports of Auckland it doesn’t look like the company is letting it stop its own planning for the future.

The Ports of Auckland refused to comment for this story but in a statement to the Hauraki Gulf Forum last month it says it is planning to apply to the Auckland Council for a 10-15 year consent to dredge the Waitemata Harbour channel so bigger ships can access the port.

Spokesman Matt Ball says the largest container ships it can currently handle can carry around 5,000 twenty-foot containers and have a draft of 12.7 metres.

But he says by dredging the harbour the Ports of Auckland will be able to double the size of the ships visiting the port which will be able to 11,000 containers and have a draft of 15.2 metres.

“We need to deepen parts of the channel so these ships can get to the port. The shallowest parts of the Waitemata Navigation Channel are 12.5 metres deep at low tide, and need to be deepened to 14.5m at low tide to allow the next generation of ships to safely use our channel.” 

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