The Government is investigating shifting the Devonport dry dock to Whangarei waters as part of its considerations on relocating the Ports of Auckland operations to Northland.
Associate Finance and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones said the Government had allocated several million dollars to Northport for a commercial analysis on the costs of creating a drydock near Whangarei.
"We are keen to see if there is some scope for relocation of the dry dock."
The ship repair and maintenance dock at the Devonport Naval Base is owned by the Ministry of Defence.
Jones said the dry dock was a valuable facility "but no longer fit for purpose".
A Defence spokesman has confirmed Jones' understanding that the dry dock cannot service naval vessel the HMNZS Canterbury or the new KiwiRail ferries. It will not be able to service the new ship the HMNZS Aotearoa when it arrives in New Zealand in April. All these vessels are too big for the dry dock.
The facility has been leased to Babcock Australasia, part of the global aerospace and defence company Babcock, or its legacy companies, since 1994.
No-one from Northport, a deep water commercial port at Marsden Point near Whangarei, would comment on anything about the commercial study, citing a non-disclosure agreement imposed by the Government.
Northport is 50 per cent owned by the listed Port of Tauranga, and 50 per cent by Marsden Maritime. The Ports of Auckland has a nearly 20 per cent stake in Marsden Maritime, which is majority-owned by the Northland Regional Council.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns declined to comment, citing a confidentiality agreement.
The total Devonport Naval Base is 22 hectares and has a land value of $134.7 million, said CoreLogic. The dry dock is about one third of the total area.
Babcock, which is believed to be open to working at Northport, has been approached for comment.
The dry dock, the official name of which is the Calliope Graving Dock, named for its location at the foot of Calliope Point, was the largest dock in the Southern Hemisphere when it opened in 1888.
Defence records say the Navy purchased it in 1986. The last modifications to the facility were in 1996 to accommodate ANZAC-class frigates.
Meanwhile, Jones said the working group for the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy was completing its final report for the Government.
The group, headed by former Far North District Council mayor Wayne Brown, is expected to support shifting Ports of Auckland commercial shipping operations to Northport, supported by new investment in KiwiRail infrastructure between Auckland and Whangarei.
Jones, whose home is Northland, is a NZ First MP and makes no bones about the fact that Brown and his working group was expected to "pay particular attention" to the option of shifting Auckland port activities to Northland, which was part of NZ First's coalition agreement with Labour when the two parties formed a government in 2017.
As the self-styled champion for the provinces, Jones has promoted the transformation of KiwiRail, with nearly $2 billion of Provincial Growth Fund and 2019 Budget money allocated to upgrading the state-owned railway company.
Earlier this month, Jones announced a $95 million Government injection for the Auckland-Whangarei track, which is near closure because of disrepair.
Jones said there was strong interest from light industry owners in relocating to Northland if rail was upgraded and landowners there had been knocking on his door.
"There is a lot of fallow real estate around Whangarei. But it's important people don't take a shallow view about why we are spending $95 million upgrading the rail but see it as opening up a whole new region in the same way the Bay of Plenty and Tauranga was opened up 30 years ago.
"Without the Kaimai (rail) tunnel there would be no Port of Tauranga."
Jones took the opportunity while talking to the Herald to further needle the Auckland Council, which wholly-owns the Ports of Auckland, for trying to keep commercial wharves on the waterfront.
"Certain options" promoted for the ports' future "were designed to keep Auckland city councillors happy", he said.
"Such as the Manukau (Harbour). The international insurance industry will never insure the inordinately large tankers to come over the Manukau Bar. That level of economic naivety promoted by the Auckland Council does not bode well for their economic governance in general.
"And in the past the Cullen Fund (NZ Super Fund) had been promoting the excavation of the Firth of Thames to build a mega-port in a location where there are no roads, no railway links and a huge and growing aquaculture industry and some of the most quarrelsome Maori tribes in the country.
"I can safely report the Cullen Fund had desisted from meddling in these areas and is now trying their hand at light rail."
Jones has copped criticism in Parliament for his campaign to develop Northland.
When the interim report of the upper North Island logistics working group was published in April, National's transport spokesman Paul Goldsmith said the upper North Island freight system was too important to New Zealand "to be left as a political play-thing of NZ First Ministers and their political agendas".
Goldsmith said the interim report showed "a thinly disguised preference for massive investment in rail between South Auckland and Northport, leading to a shift of activity away from the Ports of Auckland to Northport".
"It also seems to be peddling the concept of a nationalised ports monopoly in the upper North Island. There is no evidence or analysis to back up the suggestion that such a nationalised monopoly would be more efficient than current arrangements."