Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Port supporter slams harbour expansion plans

Ports of Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Ports of Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs

One of Ports of Auckland's strongest supporters, Auckland councillor Mike Lee, is vehemently opposed to filling in more of the Waitemata Harbour for port use.

"The days of major reclamations of the Waitemata Harbour must come to an end," he said.

Mr Lee was chairman of the Auckland Regional Council when the port company became 100 per cent publicly owned and has been a staunch supporter of the company.

But the former ship's officer and passionate conservationist said he had told port chairman Richard Pearson and chief executive Tony Gibson that just as the council had to plan for a compact city it needed to plan for a compact port.

"Ports of Auckland needs to use the significant area of reclaimed land it already has more efficiently and more sustainably, and focus on getting containers off the wharf as quickly as possible," Mr Lee said.

He was commenting on a Herald survey of the 20 councillors and Mayor Len Brown, who are being asked by the port company to "lock in place" a coastal zone allowing it to expand its waterfront from 77ha to 95ha by 2055.

The plans would see Bledisloe Wharf extended 250m into the Waitemata Harbour and Fergusson Wharf extended 50m into the harbour.

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse has welcomed a campaign by the Heart of the City business group to urge people to find out more about the expansion plan before it is approved by the council in March and becomes difficult to overturn.

She said the plan was the hot topic on the HMNZS Otago at yesterday's Anniversary Day Regatta.

"This is not just about the business of the port, but Aucklanders' relationship with the harbour, the refurbished waterfront and the wider impact," she said. A "fresh set of eyes" was needed to assess the medium and long-term future of the port.

She appears to have a more open mind than Mr Brown, who last week said a working port was critical to the health of Auckland's economy and "must be able to grow within its current development zone to cope with projected demand".

But in a slight softening on his position, Mr Brown last night said the council was being asked only to confirm the zone, and any expansion would need to go through the normal resource consent processes.

Several councillors yesterday said they supported including the coastal zone in the Auckland Plan - a 30-year blueprint for the city - on the understanding the resource consent process would test future reclamation plans.

Councillor George Wood was one of those who had confidence in the consenting process, saying he did not believe further reclamation would have the impact being claimed by Heart of the City.

Councillor Chris Fletcher said she supported a well-functioning port, but would like to see the company scale back its plans, while councillor Arthur Anae said it needed to look at expanding its inland port facilities. "Once you destroy the harbour, it is hard to put it back," he said.

Councillor Sandra Coney said she appreciated the need for the ports to be a successful company, but would not support expansion that had a significant detrimental effect on the landscape, open space, recreation and scenic values of the harbour. Some councillors are undecided on the issue.

Meanwhile, Labour's Auckland Issues spokesman, Phil Twyford, said the Waitemata Harbour was the jewel in the city and the Government needed to develop a national plan for ports before Auckland embarked on big infrastructure investment that could have a permanent and not necessarily positive impact on the harbour.

"Currently, the ports are all competing with each other and making big investment decisions in isolation," he said. "It is crazy. We need a rational port strategy that looks at the long-term needs of NZ Inc."

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said the Government was considering a draft report from the Productivity Commission into international freight services sector, including ports. The report has commented on union activity at ports, governance issues, and barriers to competition.

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