Auckland city councillors have recommended Ports of Auckland commission an independent review of its controversial container terminal automation project.
They also want a say in setting the terms of the review.
Auckland Council owns the major imports gateway, which for several months has been experiencing heavy container shipping congestion, with lengthy delays in unloading and consequent freight build up in the North Island freight supply chain.
The port blames the impact of Covid-19 and a stevedore labour shortage for its issues, but management is coming under strong industry and commercial sector criticism for the failure so far to fully implement a major terminal automation project, started in 2016.
Last month's meeting of the committee which oversees the council-owned organisations noted "significant congestion at the port and the delay to the automation project is playing a role in that".
The committee comprises most city councillors, including Mayor Phil Goff.
It recommended that when the project is fully implemented, the port commission an independent review of it and report to the council.
"Since the end of September, it has become clear that there is significant congestion at the port which is affecting how quickly customers receive their goods and the delay to the automation project is playing a role in that.
"As the shareholder, we suggest that the council needs to better understand how well the automation project was conceived of and implemented," committee papers said.
The port company this week told the Herald that a start on the final stage of the terminal project had been delayed. It was to have been completed by the end of March. But the port had been too busy dealing with freight, which had to take priority over further disruption the work might cause.
Neither the port company nor the council will reveal the cost of the project, which industry observers believe could be up to $400 million.
The company and the council have been approached for comment on the councillors' request for a review.
The committee also noted that in the port company's revised version of its statement of corporate intent, the port had reduced its targets for crane rate from 35.25 (movements per hour in lifting containers on and off ships) to 32. Port of Tauranga, the country's biggest port and main export gateway, achieved 34.4 crane moves an hour last year, according to its annual report. The national average last year was 29 movements.
The Auckland port also revised down its projected ship rate (the number of containers moved on and off) from 83 to 75 for the 2020-2021 year.
The committee meeting papers said the Auckland port had not met a majority of its non-financial key performance targets in the first quarter of the new financial year.
"It's productivity is below target and it attributes this to late vessels, industrial action in Australia and delays to the automation project because of Covid-19."
The port had met all its financial key performance targets.
"Both revenue and costs are favourable to budget for this quarter, while capital expenditure (automation) is $2.3 million below target.
"It is noted that the financial targets have been reduced from previous years to reflect the impact of Covid-19 on Ports of Auckland's operations."