Conservation Minister Nick Smith has given the green light for Port of Tauranga to widen and deepen its shipping channels, creating space to let in bigger vessels.
The minister granted resource consent after local iwi blocked the plan under the old Resource Management Act for four years, Smith said in a statement. The consents mean Port of Tauranga can dredge the entrance and shipping lanes to allow 'S' class vessels.
"I have granted these consents, on the recommendation of the Environment Court, because of the importance for New Zealand of efficient shipping services," Smith said. "I am disappointed that it has taken nearly four years for a final decision to be made on these consents."
The port has been keen on beginning the dredging to allow bigger vessels to use the hub to open up larger trade routes that the New Zealand Shippers' Council estimates could be worth up to $338 million a year.
Port chief executive Mark Cairns said the bigger ships' better fuel efficiency will "enhance the competitiveness of New Zealand exporters and provide lower freight costs for importers."
The first stage of dredging will cost between $40 million and $50 million and will start near the end of the year. It's expected to take six months to complete.
That will let ships with a capacity of 5,000 to 6,000 twenty food equivalent containers (TEUs) access the port, which currently accommodates ships of 4,500 TEUs.
The second stage will accommodate 8,200 TEU ships.
The resource consent's conditions include the setting up of a trust with local iwi to set priorities and set aside funding for future harbour improvements, a minimum separation distance of the dredging from Te Kuia Rock, the development of a Kaimoana Restoration Programme to mitigate the effects on local seafood especially the pipi beds, the setting up of tertiary and post graduate research to promote better environment health in the harbour.
The port's shares increased 0.3 per cent to $13.74 today, and have gained 6.3 per cent this year.