COMMENT: Of all the policies the NZ First Party brought into this coalition Government, the wildest and wackiest was to move the entire port of Auckland to Marsden Pt. The Labour Party agreed only to commission a feasibility study the idea of moving the port and left open the choice of alternative sites. Winston Peters, hoping to hold the Northland seat, promised to move the whole operation to Northport, but the coalition agreement merely directed Northport be given "serious consideration".
The feasibility study led by former Far North District mayor Wayne Brown is reported to have produced an interim report for the Government and its tentative suggestions ought to be interesting. The fact that ministers will receive at the same time a report on upgrading the railway from Auckland the Marsden Pt suggests Northport is the preferred alternative for at least some of Auckland's imports.
Doubtless there are countless ways that goods shipped to or from New Zealand could be better shared between various ports, not only for more efficient handling and distribution but also to stop the Auckland port encroaching ever further on the Waitematā harbour.
Doubtless too, the companies running ports would quickly find a more efficient use of them — within the constraints on Auckland — if Ports of Auckland Ltd had commercial shareholders.
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Its nearest rivals, Port of Tauranga and Northport, are majority owned by their local bodies but also have tradeable shares which has resulted in a degree of cross-ownership. Tauranga has a stake in Northport, as does Ports of Auckland Ltd. But PoAL is entirely owned by the Auckland Council which has been averse to any of its business going to other ports.
Total public ownership has been a mixed blessing for Auckland citizens. While the council collects all the port's dividends it suffers a conflict of interest when Aucklanders oppose the port's further expansion. Despite a long campaign to stop the port company extending wharves for the latest cruise ships, the council is allowing moored "dolphins" and walkways to extend Queens Wharf.
Mayor Phil Goff did not exactly welcome news this week that an interim report of the feasibility study has arrived on ministers' desks. "Any decisions on the future of Ports of Auckland should have the agreement of the council," he said. "We accept that at some point the growth of freight into Auckland will outgrow the land available....." Citizens opposed to further harbour reclamation would say that point was reached some time ago. Goff said the same when he stood for election.
"However, the port is also a critical lifeline of freight into our city," he says now. No it is not. Freight from any other port could reach Auckland, making room for cruise ships within Auckland port's existing harbour footprint.
Most of Auckland's port is unlikely to be going anywhere. The feasibility study should be looking at rationalising the use of all New Zealand Ports but it should not suppose politicians can best decide where freight goes. The Hawke's Bay Regional Council is planning to partially float its port at Napier. If the Auckland Council did likewise it would see the city's interests more clearly.