If Auckland's port lost its vehicle import business, a much more "realistic" picture of its operational cost to the city would emerge, says Port of Tauranga chairman David Pilkington.
"At the moment it is cars that contribute the bulk of profit to the Auckland operation. The removal of cars will bring a much more realistic economic focus on just what is the true cost of continuing to operate a container terminal in the middle of our largest city," said Pilkington, who heads the country's biggest export port.
He was commenting after the long-awaited public release of the final report of a Government-commissioned group which has been studying upper North Island supply chain, including ports, reform solutions.
The final report concluded the Auckland Council-owned Ports of Auckland is not economically or environmentally viable and its cargo operations should be shifted to Northport, near Whangarei. It recommended NZX-listed Port of Tauranga should continue with its growth plans.
In an associated statement, Associate Transport Minister Shane Jones, a NZ First MP and Northland resident who has championed the port move north, said the Government would start a work programme to enable a decision to be made on the future of the Auckland port in the first half of next year.
Pilkington said cars were the cargo that could be moved from Auckland most easily. About 300,000 new and used vehicles are landed on Auckland city's waterfront a year.
"We've always been of the view that if you want to decongest the Auckland waterfront and the Auckland roadway, get cars off the wharf."
Moving container activity would take more work and time. Negotiations would be needed with shipping companies over switching their port calls and importers and exporters brought along.
"But if people are serious about the need for the Auckland port to move, let's get on and devise a way for those cars to be moved. That in itself would free up a considerable amount of space that I think would set the tone and the pathway for how this could unfold."
Vehicle imports could go to Northport or Tauranga or both, he said.
Ports of Auckland declined to comment on the final report. The Herald received a leaked final report two weeks ago and has extensively reported on its contents, but industry stakeholders did not receive copies until Wednesday this week.
Northport chairman Murray Jagger said he hoped to call a meeting of the chairpersons of the three upper North Island port companies.
He said the port had a "very clear vision" of the role it could play in the economic growth of Northland, Auckland and New Zealand.
Significant growth was possible at Northport.
"We have been clear for many years that we stand ready to assist in any way we can to support Auckland's growth and the aspirations Aucklanders have for their waterfront.
"We've been making headway with plans to enhance our ability to handle a substantial increase in the volume of container traffic crossing our wharf, while working on a vision for the total overhaul of the new and used car [import] business model.
"At the heart of which stands the immense amount of development land on our doorstep."
Jagger said Northport had also been working closely with MBIE and the Defence Force to develop a concept for a shipyard and floating drydock facility to support the maintenance needs of commercial shipping and the Navy.
"None of this however is viable without absolute acknowledgment from central government that the transport infrastructure of the upper North Island needs to change almost beyond recognition."
Tauranga's Pilkington said car importers were interested in landing more cars there. The Mount Maunganui-based port has been handling vehicle imports for about two years.
"We've been upping the volume coming through but equally, a significant volume, particularly for points north of (Auckland) city, could certainly come through Northport."
Pilkington said the important thing now was for the council owner of the Ports of Auckland
to decide whether or not it accepted the working group's recommendation as a potential outcome and engaged in a process to work out how it might be achieved.
The Auckland port's words and deeds were inconsistent, he said.
It's leaders said it accepted the port would have to move at some time because of growth constraints, but then built a multimillion-dollar carpark and applied for consent to dredge Waitemata harbour to deepen access for bigger ships.
"On one hand they acknowledge the need to move and on the other seem to be making investments which will forestall the decision to move."
Pilkington said Tauranga was not advocating taking all of Auckland's cargo activity.
"We think there is a role for Northport, particularly to take cargo destined for the northwest Auckland area."
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said the company looked forward to participating in discussions.
"A two-port solution is workable, subject to land-side infrastructure investment, and would address concerns about economic land use in Auckland.
"We completely agree with the Government's view that a final decision needs to be made with the benefit of robust facts and figures."
Northport is 50 per cent owned by the Port of Tauranga and 50 per cent by listed Marsden Maritime Holdings, which has Auckland's port company as a 19.9 per cent shareholder.