The controversial, multi-billion-dollar decision on where to move the Ports of Auckland’s freight operation will need to be made by the next government.
A new government-commissioned report has concluded relocating some of the port’s operations to the Manukau Harbour is the best way forward.
The report, completed by the economic consultancy firm Sapere, found the port’s downtown Auckland location has about 30 years’ capacity and there is a 10 to 15-year window for making a decision on relocation.
While the Manukau Harbour was Sapere's pick, it said consenting would be problematic and the economic costs would outweigh the economic benefits.
This conclusion flies in the face of a study completed by a working group chaired by a former Far North mayor, Wayne Brown, which concluded the port’s freight operations should move to Northport.
Following the release of this report in December 2019, Cabinet agreed it was unsustainable for the Ports of Auckland to be the country’s key import port. However, it wasn’t convinced by the working group’s findings, so got the Ministry of Transport to further investigate and report back by May 2020.
Then Covid-19 came along, and tied up the Ministry’s resources, so it commissioned Sapere to build on the working group’s report.
Sapere completed its report in June.
Now, officials are saying they need “at least” another six months to compare the two reports, which have “significant differences,” before making further recommendations.
The issue is highly political. The working group reported to Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones, whose party, NZ First, is a staunch advocate of moving the port to Northport. With NZ First polling below 5%, Jones winning the Northland seat could be the party’s only way back into Parliament after the September 19 election.
Meanwhile Auckland Council, which owns the Ports of Auckland, is critical of the working group’s report.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff in December said he only had “one brief meeting of an hour and 20 minutes” with the working group, and didn’t get a copy of the report until after it was leaked to media.
A Cabinet paper, signed off by Jones, Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Finance Minister Grant Robertson, summarised the Sapere report as follows:
Sapere’s results are based on a 60-year timeframe (2080) rather than the 30-year timeframe (2050) considered by the Working Group. The Sapere report found:
- The Port of Auckland has around 30 years’ capacity and the need to move it is therefore not considered to be as urgent as recommended by the Working Group. There is a ten-year period to make a decision, allowing for long lead times for infrastructure consenting and construction;
- road congestion is not a reason to move the port as concluded by the Working Group. The port is a minor contributor to current congestion in Auckland and a move would not lessen this;
- all the location scenarios would be difficult to engineer and consent, present very high costs and economic costs outweigh the economic benefit. This contrasts with the EY analysis, which underpinned the Working Group’s conclusions. That analysis indicated a net positive economic benefit from a full shift to Northport;
- the highest ranked option is Manukau Harbour, which is considered technically feasible although difficult to consent. The Working Group discounted this scenario as uninsurable. Sapere found that navigability of the harbour entrance and insurability of shipping to use the harbour are less of a concern than the Working Group identified, but this needs to be confirmed by a detailed feasibility study;
- neither the Port of Tauranga nor Northport are likely to be able to create sufficient long-term capacity to provide for both their own freight growth as well as Auckland’s. Sapere reached this conclusion using the same expert port engineers as used by the Working Group, but using a 60-year rather than a 30-year planning horizon, looking out as far as 2080 rather than 2050. In addition, a number of the supply chain actors, spoken to by Sapere’s transportation specialists, rejected Northport as an option because they see it as too far from, and on the wrong side of, Auckland.