Auckland, the country’s biggest city and economic centre, could be without a major port if recommendations delivered to the government are adopted.
A working group commissioned by Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones has recommended shutting most of Port of Auckland’s operations and beefing up Whangarei’s Northport to pick them up.
Auckland’s port would then be used for cruise ships, ferries and little else.
The port is a huge business built on prime land right on Auckland’s downtown waterfront.
It’s been in the middle of controversies recently for extending its wharves into the Waitematā Harbour for cruise ships, and for building a five-storey car parking building on Bledisloe Wharf, currently home to hundreds of parked imported cars.
Proponents say closing the port will revitalise the North and free up Auckland’s land, roads and sea.
Others say it is crazy to move freight further away from the businesses and consumers it is destined for.
Moving Ports of Auckland’s freight operations to Northport. That would completely cut the big freighters from the Waitematā Harbour and greatly reduce the number of big trucks coming and going from the city.
Upgrading Northport to take the extra load would cost about $10 billion, the report says.
It would require a new railway line to connect Northport to the main trunk line, roading upgrades, a new freight terminal and possibly other rail upgrades.
Auckland’s port would still be used for ferries and cruise ships. Ports of Auckland has a stake in Northport so it could make money from the move. This has been mooted in interim reports but the final recommendations are now with the Cabinet.
Who’s for it?
Shane Jones for starters. The minister is from Northland and commissioned the report. He’s said Auckland’s port has terrorised the city, and its days are numbered.
The group Stop Stealing our Harbour reflects the views of many who say the port’s been encroaching on the water for too long and getting it out of the city will free up prime downtown land and emancipate the harbour.
Car importers say moving to Northport makes no sense. They say the 300,000 cars they bring in every year via Auckland are the port’s biggest import earner. If it closes however, they’ll bring them into Tauranga which is much closer to the lucrative markets of Tauranga, Hamilton and Auckland.
Some Auckland business groups say they don’t understand why anyone would want to take the port away from the country’s biggest economic hub.
Who’s a bit of both?
Auckland’s mayor Phil Goff is keen on moving the port but not necessarily to Northland – and not without keeping Auckland in the loop.
He says if it did move out of the city the council would need to be compensated. The port was a $600m investment for Aucklanders and the council would not simply walk away from it, he said.
What are the alternatives?
An earlier report recommended moving the port but said that would take decades and in the meantime the port needed to be expanded and developed to keep up with business.
It mooted two possible moves within the city.
One was to Manukau, bringing freight close to the industrial hub and keeping it out of the CBD. That would however mean ships having to negotiate the tricky Manukau Heads – or dredging the harbour to remove the bar.
The other option was building a brand new port at the Firth of Thames, to the south-east of the city and away from any major infrastructure.
In the meantime, Ports of Auckland is forging ahead with plans to expand and modernise its operation.
The cabinet will now consider the report and a final decision is not imminent.