The latest plans to industrialise and expand more of the Waitemata Harbour for port business are on the verge of becoming a reality without the Auckland Council looking at the wider impacts on the city.
At a confidential briefing by council officers last Wednesday, councillors were primed to include Ports of Auckland's expansion plans in the Unitary Plan at a public meeting on August 13.
A leaked copy of the briefing had five options for councillors to consider, four of which included further harbour reclamation to expand Bledisloe Wharf. A fifth option allowed for "further discussion/engagement" and possible changes to the Unitary Plan at a later date.
The briefing also included a peep at public feedback on the expansion plans, which the ports company is not releasing until after next week's council meeting.
The 181 responses showed mixed support for the plans, with 59 per cent support for reclamation and 41 per cent wanting the port to look at different ways to expand or never to expand.
The port company wants councillors to lock in two choices for a coastal port zone in the Unitary Plan - the new planning rulebook for the city.
The first choice involves expanding Bledisloe Wharf 135m into the harbour for a 5.5ha expansion and keeping Captain Cook Wharf for cargo, such as cars.
The second involves expanding Bledisloe Wharf 179m into the harbour for a 6.6ha expansion to free up Captain Cook Wharf for public use.
The choices are a scaled back version of a port plan last year to extend 283m into the harbour and expand its operation from 77ha to 99ha. The plan caused a huge public backlash, a rethink by the council and the first stage of a review of development options.
The rethink followed a Herald campaign last year against further reclamation of the Waitemata Harbour.
Today, the Heart of the City lobby group launches a fresh campaign, saying "It's time to see red" and stressing there is no rush to include expansion plans in the Unitary Plan.
"The Waitemata Harbour is an Auckland-defining asset," said Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney. "Auckland could be one of the great harbour edge cities of the world. But extending Bledisloe terminal 179m into the harbour and intensifying operations industrialises our waterfront and takes us in the opposite direction," he said.
Mr Swney said for the past 16 months the council has talked about but done nothing about completing a promised study of ports expansion plans taking into account economic, social, transport and cultural impacts for Auckland.
"Let's not commit ourselves to an expansion and the subsequent supporting infrastructure investment without, once and for all, accounting for these impacts," he said.
The council carried out the first stage of the review with an independent technical study of freight needs for the three upper North Island ports of Auckland, Tauranga and Northland. It has not carried out the second stage of the review to look at the costs and benefits of development options in the context of the ports and the wider effects on the city.
Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson has refused to participate in the Herald's series on the port this week.
In a written statement, communications head Matt Ball said Mr Gibson would not be available for an interview because debate over port expansion had been running for almost two years and the company had contributed extensively to it.
"As a result of that debate, and in line with best practice port planning internationally, we revised our port development plan, and that plan is a public document.
"There is no immediate need to make a decision on which port development option to pursue, and indeed that plan will continue to evolve as demand, technology and shipping changes.
"At some point we will need to apply for resource consent and at that point we will consult widely on whichever plan we put forward," the statement said.
Asked if the second stage of the review should take place before any decisions are made, Mr Ball said that was a matter for the council to decide.
The ports company has strong support for its latest plans from the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, the Employers and Manufacturers Association and the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development, but one pro-business group, The Committee for Auckland, has questioned if the port is the best use of prime waterfront land and called for a cost-benefit analysis.
Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell said any decision not to let the port expand is effectively a decision to close it down.
"Business and consumers need the port to expand its footprint modestly so it can reorganise its operation to allow it to become at least as competitive as the Port of Tauranga."
Dr Joel Cayford, a planner and former Auckland regional councillor, said in a recent blog that the port threatens to be the cuckoo that has outgrown its nest.
"The relationship between Auckland and its port is tipping away from the port benefiting the city to a port that is costing the city.
"Port expansion puts at risk plans for an economic future for Auckland that emphasises tourism.
"I don't think that Auckland Council should be providing for more port expansion and reclamation in the Unitary Plan.
"Certainly not without the work being done on what is the highest and best use of the Waitemata Harbour spaces," Dr Cayford said.
Barry Holton, deputy chairman of the Westhaven Marina Users Association, said the plans significantly narrow the entrance to the harbour and affect tidal flows and wind patterns.
What would happen
What happens if the expansion plans are included in the Unitary Plan?
Ports of Auckland will be able to apply for a resource consent to reclaim more of the Waitemata Harbour as a discretionary activity.
The council has discretion to publicly notify the application, which almost certainly would occur.
At that point, says ports chief executive Tony Gibson, the company would consult widely on its plans.
Mr Gibson has said the port can grow its container business at Fergusson Wharf for at least the next 20 years, but handing over Captain Cook and Marsden Wharves for public use would kick off a resource consent application straight away for a "modest expansion" of the general cargo Bledisloe Wharf.
Heart of the City says a suggestion that the stage two development study of the port should be left until the resource consent stage is the wrong way to go.
"The issues are Auckland-wide and strategic and are for the council to consider, not hearing commissioners and Environment Court judges," says Heart of the City adviser Greg McKeown.
He said the Environment Court ruled in 1999 for a proposed extension of Fergusson Wharf that the port company was under no obligation to prove what was the best outcome for Auckland, just an "appropriate" one.
Expansion plan reviews - what's involved
* A technical study by PricewaterhouseCoopers on the current and future freight demand and supply for the three upper North Island ports, Auckland, Tauranga and Northland.
* The upper North Island needs all its ports to meet strong growth, and the best way to meet future demand is to grow the ports.
* Ports of Auckland is likely to face capacity constraints before Tauranga and Northland.
* Losing the 3ha of land at Captain Cook and Marsden wharves would make matters worse.
* Further reclamation needed over the next 30 years, but less than previously thought.
* To inform the long-term strategic planning choices for the Auckland waterfront.
* Different configurations and alternative locations for Ports of Auckland.
* Economic costs and benefits of various options.
* Alignment with current transport strategies, plans and programmes.
* Legal and other barriers to various options.
* Auckland Council engaging with communities with an interest in port development about the results of the work.
Today: The plans for expansion
Tomorrow: Ngati Whatua's opposition
Wednesday: How port growth will affect Auckland.