Tony Gibson: If Auckland is to develop the port must grow

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Tony Gibson. Photo / Supplied
Tony Gibson. Photo / Supplied

The development of Auckland's waterfront is an important issue and one in which Ports of Auckland naturally has a strong interest.

We welcome views and debate. But it's vital that the debate is based on facts, and not on cheap sound-bites, misinformation and bogus polls full of leading questions.

Unfortunately, this is what we have seen from Heart of the City's Greg McKeown, Alex Swney and others in recent weeks.

In the interest of an informed debate, here are some facts.

In 2010, Ports of Auckland handled nearly a third of the country's trade by value, some $26.4 billion - more than that handled by Tauranga, Northport and Lyttelton combined.

A recent study by Market Economics found that the port facilitates 22.1 per cent of the total Auckland economy and sustains 336,200 jobs.

It also found that in a "no port" future, the Auckland economy would be $2.9 billion smaller a year by 2031.

Turning now to claims put forward by Heart of the City, there is no suggestion in the draft Auckland Plan that anyone should pay $1.7 billion just for port access.

The primary rationale for the upgrade of Grafton Gully, on which port traffic makes up 4 to 5 per cent, is to stimulate economic growth via the redevelopment of the Strand and the Quay Park area, and benefit the local community through improved amenities.

Upgrading Grafton Gully is also essential if flagship Auckland Council initiatives such as the proposed Quay St boulevard are to be achieved without bringing the city to a standstill.

Similarly, the proposed third rail line from the port to Papakura is to provide for increased demand for passenger rail as well as freight.

The amount of port freight carried by rail has increased significantly since the establishment of the Wiri Inland Port in 2010. With substantial spare rail capacity remaining (some six times current throughput) we are looking to encourage greater use of rail.

It is important then that rail network planners cater for growth and that controls to address concerns about vibration, noise and light around the key freight corridors are in place.

Heart of the City questions the ability of Auckland's transport infrastructure to cater for a growing port. Others, such as Matthew Hooton, blame the port for "container trucks rumbling through suburbs, past primary schools, and clogging the motorways into the CBD".

The truth is that port traffic makes up less than 2 per cent of overall truck traffic around Auckland and a 2009 study by Beca consultancy found that there was less port-related traffic on local roads than in 2002. In addition, more than a third of port-related container truck moves are off-peak.

Furthermore, Auckland's motorway network has benefited from substantial investment in recent years, with the result that by 2021, when the Waterview Connection is complete and providing other planned projects are going ahead, congestion on key freight routes servicing the port will not be significantly worse.

Heart of the City suggests that having a cruise terminal on Queens Wharf is effectively privatising it. This is exaggerated nonsense. Queens Wharf is large enough to cater for public events and host cruise ships at the same time. In days when a cruise ship is not in port, the terminal facilities would be available for public use. Let's not forget that cruise is a growth industry with an important pay-off for Auckland. In 1991, Ports of Auckland hosted just one cruise ship. In 2012-13 we will have more than 100, each one bringing in $1 million in economic benefit to the city. Three cruise ships will be in port simultaneously on five occasions this season, which means multiple berths and passenger processing facilities are needed.

Heart of the City also overstates the scale of the port's development plans. We project a maximum container capacity of up to 3.5 million 6m containers, not the 4 million they have stated, to be achieved primarily through intensification and smarter work practices rather than expansion.

Our current plans increase the existing port area by 10 per cent by 2020 and 27 per cent by 2050. There are no plans to extend beyond the current port zone (the area already tagged for port development by the authorities). Within this area, we envisage extending the length of Bledisloe wharf to accommodate two ships at once. This is a critical move if Captain Cook wharf is to become public space.

Heart of the City says there are other options for handling the region's trade. But the reality is that both Ports of Auckland and Port of Tauranga are needed, and both will need to grow.

Even using a conservative 5 per cent compound annual growth rate in container volumes (the average over the last 20 years is 6.74 per cent), by 2031 both ports will have reached capacity, even if all planned expansions are completed.

Auckland needs its port, and if it is to meet the ambitious economic growth goals in the Auckland Plan, it will need its port to grow.

Heart of the City is right about one thing. The Auckland Plan has the potential to shape our city for our children and their children. It is an important debate and one which deserves better than superficial slogans.

* Tony Gibson is chief executive of Ports of Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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