Let me make an easy prediction. The port of Auckland is not going anywhere. Not in 10 years, probably not in 30 years, the port company's planning horizon. The reason this prediction is easy, at least for the shorter term, is that we are discussing a leaked report.
You don't leak a report you support if you have reason to believe the Government will act on it. You leak if you are disappointed with what is going to be announced. Leaking is a last resort that just might work if the proposal is outrageous. It's bound to get attention.
When Winston Peters promised at the last election to move the port of Auckland to Marsden Point, he probably wasn't serious. He or Shane Jones needed to win a Northland seat in case their party didn't make the threshold nationwide.
Northland voters didn't take port shift seriously enough to give either of them a seat and Northland local bodies are still not seizing the idea as seriously as Wayne Brown thinks they should. Brown has chaired an advisory panel set up by a Coalition that had to do something with its junior partner's headline policy.
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Brown was a good choice for an outrageous suggestion. In previous public positions he's never been afraid to go out on a limb. He's blessed with boundless enthusiasm and self-belief. His panel was to devise an "Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy", which sounded like a suitably broad brief.
A serious Upper North Island supply chain strategy would evaluate all ports and inland distribution lines for this part of the country, especially the most populated "golden triangle" of Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga. But the panel's first report made it plain its primary purpose was to extend the golden axis to Whāngarei.
Even Shane Jones was less than impressed by that report's analytical rigour. Jones in fact made a better suggestion at that stage – that council shareholdings in all three Upper North Island ports could be used to solve the problem of Auckland.
Tauranga and Northport at Marsden Point are both part-owned by their regional councils, Ports of Auckland Ltd is fully owned by the Auckland Council. That really is the problem. If the company was on the sharemarket, the council would not feel an obligation to guard the port quite so jealously against its citizens, or resist offers from rival ports that could relieve Auckland's predicament.
The port company makes the most of its sole proprietor's position, showing scant concern for the port's visual impact when it does such things as installing outsized cranes without warning. But with Labour people leading the Auckland Council there is no prospect of even partially floating the port.
So Jones suggested getting the same result from the opposite direction. If the Government was to take over the public shareholdings in the ports it would have enough leverage to bring about a solution to the Auckland problem.
The leaked final report from Brown's panel reportedly recommends the Government set up some sort of ports authority in a "project implementation capacity" independent of local and national politicians "to facilitate commercial negotiations and deliver the strategy".
The strategy is to redirect Auckland's imports to Marsden Pt, rail them back to the city and reduce the port of Auckland to a cruise-ship terminal. I think whoever leaked the report already knows the Government will not go that far.
But it might announce a commission to work "collaboratively", as Labour says, with the shareholding councils to bring Ports of Auckland Ltd into commercial negotiations with Northport and Tauranga (co-owner of Northport) to enable Auckland to operate within its constraints.
Northport could bid for the car trade, as it is preparing to do, and build an inland terminal in northwest Auckland, as Port of Tauranga has done in South Auckland, with investment by KiwiRail. But these should be commercial decisions, not dictates of a regional development strategy.
Likewise for Auckland's port. The country's largest population concentration has a competitive port within it. There are rail and motorway connections nearby and trucks are not a major contributor to Auckland's road congestion. You don't abandon an asset like that.
As for making more lucrative or attractive use of the city waterfront, if we're talking apartment blocks I think I'd prefer the cranes. If we're talking public spaces, take a walk on Queens Wharf some time. It is 10 years since it was acquired and it's a mess.
After the next America's Cup we will get more public space from the tank farm and we don't know what to do with it. Breezy wharfs are not parks.
We have plenty of public waterfront for visionaries to work on without closing a working port. The idea Auckland should bring all its imports from 140km away can be called only far-fetched.