Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Ngati Whatua urges caution over city's port plans

Major waterfront landowner thinks the port's expansion drive is too rushed, and wants to work with Ports of Auckland and the council to plan for its growth following more investigation.

Mr Hutchison says Whai Rawa has only just stumbled across the port's latest plans to expand Bledisloe Wharf 135m or 179m into the Waitemata Harbour. Photo / Greg Bowker
Mr Hutchison says Whai Rawa has only just stumbled across the port's latest plans to expand Bledisloe Wharf 135m or 179m into the Waitemata Harbour. Photo / Greg Bowker

Auckland hapu and waterfront landowner Ngati Whatua o Orakei says there is no rush to formalise expansion plans for Ports of Auckland until the wider impacts on the city are known.

"This is one of the biggest decisions Auckland Council is going to make this year," says Rob Hutchison, who heads Whai Rawa, the investment arm of Ngati Whatua o Orakei Trust.

Ngati Whatua, whose ties with port activities on the Auckland waterfront stretch back to 1840, is a significant landowner today, with 22ha of railway land at Quay Park between the port and motorway system.

Mr Hutchison says Whai Rawa has only just stumbled across the port's latest plans to expand Bledisloe Wharf 135m or 179m into the Waitemata Harbour, depending on whether the company frees up Captain Cook Wharf for public use.

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He says that while the trust board was aware of the plans, the investment arm received a briefing only in the past few weeks, which he described as "jaw-dropping".

"Auckland boasts one of the best, most stunning harbours in the world. It breathes life into our city, it's a source of jobs, food and tourism and recreation," he said.

As a major landowner in the wider port area containing the KiwiRail rail network, Mr Hutchison said Ngati Whatua had quite an interest, particularly about transport requirements for the expected growth in containers from the current 800,000 to 2.4 million over the next 30 years.

"It seems to us that will be a significant impact and there will be a lot more traffic.

"We have got two rail lines at the moment running through the land behind Vector Arena. One for freight and one for passengers sharing the same lines. There are currently no plans for a third line. The anticipated increase in passenger lines will mean freight trains will have to operate at night, but we haven't seen any information on that."

Mr Hutchison said Ngati Whatua wanted to work with Ports of Auckland and the council to plan for port growth.

"A bit more time and a bit more consultation and investigation to get some transport numbers and plans together will make a huge difference. We just think it is a bit soon and a bit rushed and there seems to be this overwhelming pressure to squeeze this into the Unitary Plan. That is not the right thing to do because of the potential impacts on Auckland as a whole," he said.

In December last year, the council's regional development and operations committee instructed officers to consider the economic, environmental and cultural impacts for Maori as part of the second stage of a review of development options for the port.

Since then, the council has abandoned plans for the second stage review for a new plan driven by the port company.

That review aimed to look at the wider picture of port expansion, taking into account economic, social, transport and cultural impacts for Auckland.

The council has, however, agreed that early scoping work on the cultural impacts for Maori will be reported to the Auckland Plan committee next Tuesday, where councillors have been primed to insert Ports of Auckland's expansion plans in the Unitary Plan.

As well as Ngati Whatua, boaties, architects and the Committee for Auckland are calling on the council to take more time before locking expansion plans into the Unitary Plan - the new planning rulebook for the city.

Barry Holton, deputy chairman of the Westhaven Marine Users Association, says there needs to be a wider, independent assessment of the environmental impacts, including modelling of tidal flows and effects on the harbour coastline.

Like many groups, he says, the association is not opposed to a working port in the current location, but is angry at the way objections to port expansion have been ignored since the Herald began campaigning on the issue in January last year.

Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson has refused to participate in the Herald's latest series on the port this week, saying through a spokesman that the debate has been running for nearly two years and the company had contributed extensively to it. In a statement, the company says it has revised its port development plan, there is no immediate need to make a decision on which option to pursue and when the time comes to apply for a resource consent, the company will consult widely on whatever plan is put forward.

The Committee for Auckland wants a swift completion of the second stage review. The first stage, an independent technical study of freight needs for the three upper North Island ports of Auckland, Tauranga and Northland, was completed last November. "We need a sound methodology to provide answers to whether stacking containers on the harbour's edge is the best use of prime real estate, whether there are credible and affordable alternatives and what are the costs and benefits of releasing the port land for alternative use," said executive director Heather Shotter.

The committee has carried out its own study of Auckland's three harbours that Ms Shotter says calls for co-ordinated planning and management to "create a city for the future worthy of the next generation of Aucklanders and New Zealanders".

It also commissioned economic consultants Covec to investigate alternative scenarios for port business on the waterfront. They found that the benefits of expansion exceeded the costs, from a national perspective.

Several business groups, including the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) and New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID), have given their blessing to the latest expansion plans by the ports company.

Chamber boss Michael Barnett has said the Committee for Auckland comments represented an elitist business view, not the views of the mass of wealth- and job-creating businesses in Auckland. He said the latest plans were exactly what the majority of the business community wanted - growing the port business and offering Captain Cook Wharf back to Aucklanders at an appropriate time.

EMA chief executive Kim Campbell said business and consumers needed the port to expand its footprint modestly so it could reorganise its operations to allow it to become at least as competitive as Port of Tauranga.

NZCID chief executive Stephen Selwood said plans to extend Bledisloe Wharf between 135m and 179m were vital to lifting port productivity, meeting future freight demand and supporting jobs.

A ports spokesman today disputed Mr Hutchison's claim that Whai Rawa had only just stumbled on the port's latest plans in the past few weeks.

He said ports chief executive Tony Gibson briefed Mr Hutchison and his team on May 29, and approached Ngati Whatua weeks before to arrange a meeting.

The series

Yesterday: The plans for expansion
Today: Ngati Whatua's opposition
Tomorrow: How port growth will affect Auckland

- NZ Herald

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