Big infrastructure project specialist Mark Binns is to conduct the promised independent post -mortem on Ports of Auckland's costly container terminal automation programme failure.
Binns, a qualified lawyer, is chairman of Crown-owned company Crown Infrastructure Partners and has been involved in many of New Zealand's largest infrastructure projects, including Waterview Connection, Eden Park, SkyCity, the Te Papa Museum and the Manapouri tunnel.
Port owner Auckland Council asked for the investigation after New Zealand's main imports gateway announced in June it was abandoning the project after six years of failing to fully implement it.
The port company signalled a $65 million write-off in pulling the plug but the cost is unlikely to end there.
The port said the write-off was mainly for automation software and associated technology but as at October, $330m had been spent on terminal development to increase capacity, to which automation was central, it reported at the time to Auckland Council.
Of this $70m was for 27 new autonomous straddle carriers, $60m for three new ship-to-shore cranes, and $61m for "automation only projects". (Councillors were advised "most" of this expenditure would have been necessary regardless of the automation intention).
New chief executive Roger Gray has suggested all the investment hasn't been lost. The new cranes are essential for growth and the straddle carriers - designed for use in an automated system and not requiring drivers - could be converted for manual operation, he said.
But those carriers don't have a driver's cab and retrofitting them will be expensive, according to sector opinion.
The port company said Binns has been asked to: consider the governance and related management processes followed during the automation project; and to provide advice and make recommendations for improvements in processes for future projects.
Binns was appointed by the port company board, which was asked by the council to conduct the investigation. The board is largely new after a refresh driven last year by the office of outgoing mayor Phil Goff. Former chief executive Tony Gibson left last year.
Goff's office told the Herald the investigation was to report back to the council later this year.
Binns, who has been a director of Crown Infrastructure Partners since 2018, worked at Fletcher Building and its predecessor Fletcher Challenge for 22 years.
He was chief executive of energy company Meridian from 2012 to 2017 and is also a former chief executive of the infrastructure division of Fletcher Building.
He's currently a director of Auckland Airport, Metlifecare and Te Pūia Tāpapa, a trustee of Auckland War Memorial Museum and chair of Global Taskforce.