Comment

Now the submission hearings are over one can only hope the dog that is the regional council will at least realise the tail that is Napier Port is wagging it – and they need to get it to stop.

Because we the public must have confidence the council is pondering its decision in a clear and detached manner, not on behalf of the Port, but on behalf of all the citizens and businesses of Hawke's Bay.

Right now, I'm far from convinced that's the case.

Advertisement

Certainly those of us who made submissions would like to think our questions and ideas – as many and varied as they were – might at least give councillors pause to reconsider whether the "preferred" Option B (partial sale) is really the best solution.

Indeed, whether there is even a problem in the first place.

Oh, sure, if councillors really want to sell they've plenty of excuse to do so, with an apparent majority of submitters in favour of that course.

Mind you, two significant groups within those supporting Option B qualified their comments such that they were really supporting modified versions of Options A or C; take them out and the 57 per cent "majority" evaporates.

But this is nit-picking. The real story here is what the Port directors have – and haven't – said about their operation and their plans that has led the council to think this whole expansion project is a great idea, when it's only a set of unsupported assumptions based on untested theory.

No surprise the public haven't seen a business case for it; neither has the council, because to date there isn't one. The Port won't put a full business case together until after it has uncontested consent, a fully costed and detailed design, and a decision from the council on how it will be funded.

That's all the council is being asked to do. They're not (as the consultation documentation led people to believe) deciding whether to build a new wharf; they're only deciding whether, and how, to repurpose the Port's current debt.

Thereafter a final decision on the project going ahead will be made by the Port's board, not the council.

Likewise there's been no independent peer review of the assumptions backing the Port's case, and although the Port says it is "currently having these assumptions reviewed", it is not clear by whom.

There's no immediacy either. The "need" to create berthage for larger cargo ships is remote, since the Port has acknowledged it doesn't intend doing the deep dredging required for 10-15 years – if ever.

That means perhaps $40m in dredging costs can come off the $142m figure for the new wharf, which fundamentally alters the entire rationale propping up the debt re-financing options we were consulted on.

Then there's the Port's financial management. Since 2000, when its debt was zero, to 2017, revenue increased about 265 percent and profit doubled, but debt climbed to $83.6m. How will they service a $350m expansion?

Clearly the directors want to cut the strings of public good and see a lot of upside in the business, which they hope to realise through partial privatisation.

And who will pay for that "upside" to be realised? You, me, and everyone doing business through the Port of Napier.

As for the council's own ambition of establishing an "environmental investment fund" from the proceeds, the lump sum they might end up with, whatever return it may make, and even its purpose are all unknowns.

We don't want a boofy old hound that loves the burglars. We want a guard dog that knows its duty and can bare its teeth.