Editorial: Call to expand port area must get short shrift

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The port company does not say how often this occurs. It is, however, unusual to see more than one car ship in the port at one time. Photo / NZ Herald
The port company does not say how often this occurs. It is, however, unusual to see more than one car ship in the port at one time. Photo / NZ Herald

Capacity constraints at the Port of Auckland feature high on the list of those eager to justify its expansion through further reclamation of the Waitemata Harbour. They were the focus of an Institute of Economic Research report commissioned by the Auckland Council, the port's sole shareholder. Now, they also underpin a proposal from the City Centre Integration Group that would see the Captain Cook Wharf extended to handle large cruise ships, and the Bledisloe Wharf enlarged to compensate for the resulting lack of freight space.

At a first glance, that plan might appear persuasive to the Auckland councillors who will decide today whether to reverse their vote of last year to oppose further harbour reclamation in the downtown area. It seems less intrusive than previous port company proposals. But any further analysis of the group of council chief executives' strategy leaves no doubt that it should be rejected in short order.

Essentially, the expanded area of the Bledisloe Wharf would be used to store the imported cars parked on Captain Cook. That space is necessary, according to the port company, because these vehicles account for 45 per cent of its bulk cargo. The situation is said to be compounded by the fact that up to five or six big car ships could arrive within a couple of days.

The port company does not say how often this occurs. It is, however, unusual to see more than one car ship in the port at one time. How difficult could it be to have them transferred quickly to a large inland depot? Far better that than the blot created by a 3ha expansion of the Bledisloe Wharf.

All too recently, the council spent $16.8 million refurbishing Shed 10 on Queens Wharf as a cruise-ship terminal. That would become redundant. A new terminal would have to be built at Captain Cook. This is deemed necessary because Queens Wharf cannot handle the increasing number of cruise ships of more than 290m. Yet this trend has been apparent for some time. That did not, however, stop Queens being touted, until recently, as the logical cruise-ship destination.

More fundamentally, the Institute of Economic Research report looked only at capacity constraints at the port. It did not consider wider social and environmental issues. But no councillor can ignore those. The reaction to previous port plans to enlarge the Bledisloe Wharf through reclamation made it clear that Aucklanders want a more accessible and pleasant waterfront. This new strategy would, inevitably, diminish the Waitemata's visual splendour. Indeed, nothing will have been gained, given that the councillors are also being asked to permit the reclamation of a further 2ha of harbour every 10 years into the future.

The council must ensure that such developments remain out of the question. The port company must seek to accommodate bigger cruise ships within its current area. Additionally, its supposed car problem could be addressed further by rationalisation of its activities and those of the port of Tauranga. That, not further encroachment into the Waitemata, is the way forward.

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