Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Company sticks by expansion plan

Port bosses express confidence mayoral investigation will vindicate their blueprint for further development.

Ports of Auckland chief Tony Gibson refused to take part in last week's Herald series on expanding the port further into the harbour. Photo / APN
Ports of Auckland chief Tony Gibson refused to take part in last week's Herald series on expanding the port further into the harbour. Photo / APN

Ports of Auckland is confident a mayoral study into the wider city impacts of reclaiming more of the Waitemata Harbour for port business will vindicate its own expansionary plans.

The company said its studies had shown the best way to cater for Auckland's growing freight demand was to expand the existing port.

"It is the cheapest, least environmentally damaging option and delivers the best economic result for Auckland and Auckland ratepayers.

"We are confident any professionally conducted study will reach the same conclusion," the company said.

The council-owned business was responding to Mayor Len Brown's shelving its latest expansion plans until the consequences for the rest of the city are known.

"Before we make any decisions about whether the port expands or otherwise, we need an informed discussion with Aucklanders, underpinned by a robust study that includes consideration of economic, social and environmental factors," he said on Friday.

His statement followed a series on port expansion by the Herald last week that outlined the company's latest, scaled-back plans, strong opposition from Ngati Whatua o Orakei and effects on the city's rail and transport systems, which have not been fully investigated.

Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson, who refused to participate in the series, saying the company had contributed extensively to the debate over two years, continued his silence yesterday.

"We are happy with the statement," company head of communications Matt Ball said.

A Herald survey of councillors has found support among them for a second-stage review of the wider impacts on Auckland of further port expansion.

A Herald campaign last year against further reclamation of the Waitemata Harbour led to a rethink and a first-stage review of upper North Island port-freight capacity.

The second stage was sidelined when Ports of Auckland scaled back its expansion plans from 22ha to 6.6ha or 5.5ha.

Right-leaning councillors Dick Quax, George Wood and Cameron Brewer want the council to insert a port zone in the Unitary Plan that allows for extending Bledisloe Wharf up to 179m into the harbour.

Mr Quax and Mr Brewer believe the second-stage review is a waste of ratepayers' money, although Mr Brewer is calling for a report on the potential impact of thousands of freight trains a year rattling through his Orakei ward.

Other right-leaning councillors Noelene Raffills and Sharon Stewart support the second-stage review.

Said Ms Stewart: "Ports of Auckland are an extremely important part of the Auckland economy. However, we must ensure that the pristine harbour is not spoiled by too much reclamation."

North Shore councillor Ann Hartley said any study must include analysis of a direct rail link for the port. "This is crucial to establish the opportunities for efficiency around the port and further development of the inland port."

The councillor feedback comes as Heart of the City and its supporters, including the Auckland Institute of Architects, the architects' Urban Auckland wing and the Westhaven Marina Users Association, release the findings of a poll.

The Roy Morgan Research online poll found two out of three Aucklanders were concerned about port reclamation plans and 80 per cent were concerned about the impact of more trucks and freight on the transport network from port growth.

Just 19 per cent of the 924 respondents supported the port reclaiming more of the harbour.

Half of the respondents wanted the port to look at alternatives to expansion, including shifting the port over time.

Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney said the results put a stake in the ground.

"There's good reason to say no to the draft Unitary Plan changes the ports have been proposing.

"Aucklanders want the robust study announced by the mayor to be completed first," he said.

The poll was conducted between Wednesday and Friday last week.

PR head: Ports series a 'jack up'

Ports of Auckland head of communications Matt Ball believes the Herald series on ports expansion has been cooked up by the Heart of the City lobby group and Pead PR to manipulate the Auckland Council and Mayor Len Brown.

Mr Ball yesterday said the port company was not very happy with the series, which looked a bit too much like a co-ordinated campaign and not the level playing field it expected.

He was pleased the company did not take part in the series - ports chief executive Tony Gibson refused to participate - because it looked more like a jack-up by Heart of the City and its PR advisers, Pead PR.

The former private secretary to Act Party leader Richard Prebble personally thought a second-stage ports study announced by Mr Brown was a waste of ratepayers' money.

"I would rather my rates were not spent on this, and a few people in the port agree with me," Mr Ball said.

"But we live in a democracy and if the council makes a genuine decision based on genuine concerns then that is totally fine with me."

Mr Ball's LinkedIn page says he has held a number of PR jobs since working for Mr Prebble between 1997 and 2001.

Before joining Ports of Auckland in August last year, he freelanced for Sherson Willis, specialising in stakeholder relations and issues management. Sherson Willis director Trish Sherson is a former senior press secretary for the Act Party.

- NZ Herald

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