Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Council tried to keep port expansion under wraps

Plans may have been in place to extend Auckland's port 250m into the Waitemata Harbour. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Plans may have been in place to extend Auckland's port 250m into the Waitemata Harbour. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Auckland Council tried to hide details about the city's port expansion after a campaign was launched by the Herald against further reclamation.

A council report obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act said maps in three public plans "should be very careful not to convey levels of detail".

The 16-page report was circulated among senior staff the day after the Herald launched a campaign on January 26 against plans to extend Auckland's port 250m into the Waitemata Harbour.

The campaign prompted widespread public concern. Ten weeks later the council rewrote its position on port development in the city's 30-year blueprint and called for a review of development options.

The council report was concerned that the city centre masterplan and the waterfront masterplan contained maps showing the outline of the port expansion that gave the impression it had been approved.

It said any maps in these two reports and the 30-year Auckland Plan should not convey levels of detail for future expansion that would ultimately be determined through a resource consent process.

The report, prepared by council economic development manager Harvey Brookes, said it was arguable that an "expanding major industrial facility" like the port in the city centre went against Mayor Len Brown's plan to make Auckland the "world's most liveable city".

But he also said a liveable city was not only about aesthetics and urban design, but about being an "economically vibrant city", in which the port played an important role.

Other council documents reveal the debate within senior circles about the extent of future port expansion in the Auckland Plan.

Mr Harvey and other officers favoured broad-brush wording to allow for port expansion and leaving decisions about the future of the port to a new unitary plan and resource consent processes.

But after a meeting on February 1 with Heart of the City boss Alex Swney, who was concerned the Auckland Plan would lock in the expansion area, council chief executive Doug McKay sought wider advice.

Regional and local planning manager Penny Pirrit believed the Auckland Plan was the place to outline the extent of future port expansion, while environmental strategy manager Ludo Campbell-Reid said the port had been the "elephant in the room" for many years and its long-term future was the most strategic decision the council needed to make.

Less than a week later, the council called for a review of development options. It also changed the wording in the Auckland Plan to say it did not endorse any specific port expansion proposal and described the harbour as an Auckland-defining asset that the plan seeks to protect and enhance.

An announcement on who will conduct the review is expected to be made this week. The first stage will look at current and future freight demand in the upper North Island ports of Auckland, Tauranga and Northland. The second stage will assess future development options for Auckland and the downtown port area. A third stage could bring the Government into the equation to allow the three ports to work more closely.

- NZ Herald

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