Plans for expansion a good balance between city’s needs and preserving environment, says Tony Gibson.

When I came to Ports of Auckland in 2011, I inherited a plan for a 23ha reclamation and a 250m extension into the harbour. There were howls of rage and calls for us to think again, to come back with something smaller. We listened. Now we've got it down to 3ha and under 100m - 90 per cent less reclamation and 60 per cent less extension.

We have resource consent for two wharf extensions, and enabling work has started. We do not have consent for reclamation. That is a separate process and we won't apply for consent until the Unitary Plan becomes operative. Any application will be publicly notified and there will be extensive consultation.

Our efforts to minimise our impact aren't enough for some. Now there must be no expansion and there are calls to move the port, somewhere, anywhere, just not where we can see it. Make it someone else's problem.

I've got an amazing team, but we can't do miracles. We can't handle Auckland's growth without some extra room. Let's have a look at some of the arguments.

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Why do we need an extension? Because freight through the multi-cargo wharves has doubled in the past five years. That's the impact of 1.4 million Aucklanders buying things from overseas. The banana you ate, your daily coffee, the car you drive or the train you ride. Your TV, your shoes - they all come through our port. Nearly 70 per cent of all the imports into Auckland port are for you, the people of Auckland - and we only take 60 per cent of Auckland's imports.

We need longer wharves because the ships that bring in your freight are getting bigger. Bigger ships are good, they are greener and keep costs down, but you can't park a big ship on a small wharf. The legacy of finger wharves from the days when ships were smaller means we have berth space that can't be used, but could be if we build these extensions.

Some say we should become more efficient first. Well, we have. We are the fastest container terminal in New Zealand. We have world class "dwell times", meaning imports don't sit around on our land. We're efficient, but that doesn't eliminate the need for reclamation. The freight growth is too great.

But it's just a giant carpark! Well yes, and no. Bledisloe is used for cars, trains, buses, diggers, tunnel boring machines, wind turbines, yachts, pleasure boats and more. The cars don't stay long, on average two days, which is pretty good when you realise a car ship can offload 2000 in 12 hours and we can get 10,000 a week.

What about Northport, Tauranga or a new port? A new port is expensive. $4 billion to $5 billion. Central government would have to fund it. It's an environmental nightmare; 80ha of reclamation instead of three and it could take 20 years to deliver anything meaningful. It won't fix our problem. Shipping your freight through far-away ports has lots of problems. Like thousands more trucks on the road and the need for significant investments in both infrastructure and port facilities.

Will these extensions "destroy" the harbour? No, they simply won't. There is no impact on the tides because water flows under a wharf structure. They don't protrude into the main navigation channel and they don't make the harbour narrower - the narrowest point is further east as the image shows. I'll also make this commitment: There will be no further extensions into the harbour and if the council's port study finds a better alternative to these current extensions, we'll remove them.

If we can't grow the port, it will choke on Auckland's growing freight demand. Cruise ships will be hit first as we will no longer be able to berth ships like the Queen Mary II on the freight wharves.

Ships will have to queue in the Gulf. Over time trade will have to go via other ports, with more trucks on the road to bring it to Auckland. The cost of everything will go up, which not matter if you are a top earner, but will hit those at the bottom. Carbon emissions will increase.

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We at the port are Aucklanders too. We love the harbour as much as anyone else. We think we've come up with a good compromise between our material needs as a city and the need to protect our environment. No one is stealing our harbour.

Tony Gibson is chief executive of the Ports of Auckland.
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