Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Port of war: Plan to build 65m wharf expansion into Auckland harbour reignites long-running battle

The Ports of Auckland says work will start soon to design a piled extension to Bledisloe Wharf, at right in this image. Photo / Supplied
The Ports of Auckland says work will start soon to design a piled extension to Bledisloe Wharf, at right in this image. Photo / Supplied

A new port battle has erupted after Ports of Auckland flagged fresh plans for a 65m expansion into the Waitemata Harbour.

The port company said it had taken reclamation off the table but work would start soon to design a piled extension to Bledisloe Wharf.

The move comes after a long-running battle over the future of Auckland's waterfront and harbour.

The Herald has campaigned against further port incursions into the harbour since January 2012, when the port company planned a 283m extension.

The plans were scaled back to 179m, but public outcry was renewed when the Herald revealed last year that the council had approved port plans for two wharf extensions of about 96m into the harbour.

A flotilla took to the harbour in protest and, with the backing of prominent Aucklanders, the Urban Auckland group won a historic victory after the High Court ruled consents for the project were invalid.

The latest controversial plans come after the release of the Port Future Study report, which found the port will have to move in the long-term but will require extra berth space at Bledisloe in the meantime.

The port company claims the extension would extend 40m beyond the tip of two concrete piers at the end of the Bledisloe Wharf, but for practical purposes it is 65m from the end of the wharf line.

Stop Stealing Our Harbour spokesman Michael Goldwater said Aucklanders made it clear during last year's battle over extensions they did not want any more of their harbour taken by the port.

He predicted a similar uprising with marches and protests if the port proceeds with the wharf extensions, "which are definitely not temporary".

"Reclamation and a piled wharf structure are one and the same thing. They are filling the harbour in with concrete, whether it is on piles or rock," Mr Goldwater said.

"The word they should be using if they are honest with the public is expansion."

Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson said the port study's consensus working group had agreed the ports needed more berth space for general cargo and a structure at the end of Bledisloe Wharf was needed.

"We have taken reclamation off the table in response to community concerns, so any future capacity will be delivered by using a piled structure, which could later be removed," Mr Gibson said.

"Design of the new wharf will start soon. We will work on this project in an open and transparent manner and will consult stakeholders and the public."

Port company spokesman Matt Ball confirmed earlier Herald reports that the company had put forward a proposal to the consensus working group for 40m piled extensions beyond the tip of the concrete piers "as a way of providing additional berth space without reclamation".

The consensus working group made no decision, he said, but the firm would now refine its proposal and consult stakeholders before seeking resource consent.

Mr Goldwater said the port company had not put up any evidence for the need to expand and claimed there were other options to provide extra berthage.

Mr Ball said that was wrong and it could only provide berthage for four ships with a 40m extension.

"If you don't, then you only get two berths. Two is not enough," Mr Ball said.

Labour MP and mayoral candidate Phil Goff said he opposed further port creep, including a wharf extension.

"If they [the port company] think that incrementally they can keep expanding then they will never take the steps they need either to divert some of the cargo elsewhere or get a permanent alternative location.

"My message to the Ports of Auckland is work within your footprint," Mr Goff said.

Centre-right mayoral candidate Vic Crone said the Future Port Study provided the "burning platform" to move the port's operations over time.

She wanted to see the details behind the proposal to add berth space with a view to seeking alternative options.

"We will have the exciting opportunity of creating something truly wonderful on our prime waterfront space that really puts our personality on the world stage.

"No doubt this will be a monumental and expensive task ... but it's got to happen," Ms Crone said.

Another candidate, Mark Thomas, said the council had to remain the decision- maker.

"Aucklanders have sent a clear message they don't want to see further encroachment. Given the history we have from last year I think the port needs to work harder than they have to bring Aucklanders with them or at least improve the [public's] understanding of what they think their needs are," he said.

Main findings

Port Future Study:

• Ports of Auckland needs to move in the long-term.

• Extra berth space required at Bledisloe Wharf in the meantime.

• Manukau Harbour and Firth of Thames preferred locations for new port.

• New port could be built between 2030s-2055 costing $4b to $5.5b.

- NZ Herald

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