Tony Gibson: Port: We have to earn our place

Photo / Greg Bowker
Photo / Greg Bowker

I have to admit to being surprised by strength of feeling generated by the Herald's campaign against port expansion earlier this year. The port development plan had been agreed years ago and we assumed Aucklanders were on board with it. How wrong we were.

The great thing about that campaign is that it made us realise we can't take our place on the waterfront for granted - we have to earn it. It also told us that any growth of the port should be moderate and considered.

So we've been thinking about how we can be a great port for Auckland on the land we've already got, how we can become a port that our community values, like the Port of Tauranga. We've gone back to the drawing board to see how much more capacity we can squeeze out of our current footprint - and the answer appears to be: lots.

On current projections we could get another 20 years out of Fergusson container terminal - maybe more - without expanding beyond the reclamation underway now. We can open Captain Cook and Marsden wharves to the public over that period as long as we can replace their capacity, which means growing Bledisloe Wharf a little.

All up, the port will be a lot more efficient. We will be able to consider a range of different expansion options which better meet community concerns. We'll make our customers happier. We'll get more business, which means job security and more profits. We're 100 per cent council owned, so our profits are reinvested in the community.

With that in mind I'd like to offer a vision of what the CBD waterfront could look like in 20-25 years. We're a creative lot at the port, so there are few ideas in here from our staff:

•This year's industrial dispute is a distant memory. We reached an amicable settlement with the unions which has provided good secure jobs for our staff and a step-change in productivity. That leap in efficiency meant we could delay the planned construction of a third container berth for over six years. It made us more profitable so we could invest in other initiatives which have almost tripled our container terminal capacity.

•We've given Captain Cook wharf to the city and it's become the new home for Auckland's Maritime Museum. (If you haven't been to this museum you really should, it's a gem, and it's free to Aucklanders.)

•Here's a challenging idea - alongside the museum sits Bean Rock Lighthouse. I admit it's a big call to make - it stands proudly in our harbour and lots of people are very attached to it. But it gets a pounding from the elements and almost no-one gets to visit this iconic piece of Auckland's maritime heritage. Imagine it restored, sitting on our waterfront for people to clamber in and out of - with the added bonus of giving great views over the working port. Marsden Wharf is a public space, but owned by Ports of Auckland because we have to moor big ships nearby. The Rainbow Warrior memorial has been moved on it and nearby stands a statue to Apihai Te Kawau, who made land available for British settlement on the Waitemata at a ceremony close to this wharf.

•We've replaced some of the capacity lost by giving up those wharves with a low-rise car park facing Quay Street. We've created safe public access to it and on top is a viewing platform, perhaps a cafe, so people can linger over a drink to admire the view and the people at the port hard at work earning more money for the city.

These are just a few ideas which could bring a lot of life to the waterfront and bring people and port closer together. It would be a space for enjoyment as well as enterprise, a real asset to our shining city. Auckland will always need a working port as the economic benefits are too great to give away, we just need to think creatively about how we do it. Thanks for the chance to contribute to the debate.

- NZ Herald

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