Napier Port has reaffirmed its plans for its biggest-ever investment by lodging a resource consent application with its owners aimed at building a new wharf stretching 350 metres and able to cope with some of the longest ships in the World.

The application was lodged with the Hawke's Bay Regional Council yesterday, a year and a half after the port company — once run by a harbour board elected by the public — first announced its plans for a project which with the dredging necessary is expected to cost about $125 million.

A timeline is not yet clear however, although the port expects a near 50 per cent increase in cargo by 2026 and that once the application process is completed it will complete a business case to establish the optimum time to begin construction which it is estimated will take about two years.

The lodging of the application follows large amounts of scientific research and almost two-years of pre-consultation, involving input from about 2000 people.

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It includes 17 specialist studies on potential impacts on the ecology of the sea floor and Pania Reef, dredging, waves, surf breaks, noise, traffic and cultural values.

It now needs to be reviewed by the Regional Council before public notification and assessment by independent commissioners, and consent would allow the wharf to be built when cargo demand and increasing ship size warrant it.

Napier Port chairman Alasdair MacLeod said with expected cargo volume growth, and indications ships as long as 360 metres could be stopping at Napier within the next five years, the company needs to develop its facilities to handle that growth on behalf of the region.

"Napier Port is critical to Hawke's Bay's economy – we're associated with 27,000 full and part-time jobs and more than half of the gross regional product," he said.

"Until now, we've been able to handle the steady growth in cargo across our existing wharves. However, Hawke's Bay's economy is thriving and eventually we'll need a sixth wharf to meet cargo demand and cater for the larger ships coming to New Zealand."

While the new container wharf and dredging of the shipping channel to handle larger ships will cost about $125 million, about $275 million needs to be invested to ensure Napier Port remains relevant and competitive, Mr MacLeod said.

Due to steady growth and the need for investment in recent years, Napier Port's debt at the end of its 2017 financial year was $83 million, and the funding of the development will need a reduction of that debt by either requesting dividend relief from the Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company (which is owned by the Regional Council), or securing additional investment, Mr MacLeod said.

Environmental consideration include a plan to move a proposed dredge material disposal 5km offshore, rather than using an inshore site with existing consent for maintenance dredging programmes.

Napier Port has a feedback portal on its website to answer any questions or hear further views from the community.