The protest group that stopped Ports of Auckland's expansion plans last year is calling Winston Peters' plan to move the port visionary.
Stop Stealing Our Harbour this morning welcomed the "fantastic news today that could save our harbour from Ports of Auckland's relentless expansion and help transform Auckland into one of the great waterfront cities of the world".
However, the plan has been fiercely denounced as "economic vandalism" by the Road Transport Forum, which says most goods than enter the port are consumed in Auckland or further south - and moving north would add huge costs to road transport.
An ally of Stop Stealing Our Harbour in last year's port expansion battle, Urban Auckland, has also poured cold water on Peters' plan, saying his motive is clearly about short-term vote-buying rather than the long-term benefit of New Zealand.
"What his move does highlight is the need for leadership at government level to facilitate an Upper North Island Port Strategy. The issue of port relocation and a new port for the next century of NZ's trade is too important, too complex and too expensive to expect individual regions to solve it," said Urban Auckland chairwoman Julie Stout.
"Winston's bold move puts our harbour back centre stage but don't let him hijack the process to find the best solution." Stout said.
This morning, the Herald has reported that the NZ First leader is set to move the port to Northport if his party is in a position of influence after the election.
"This is the first time any major political party has made such a visionary commitment to the future of Auckland's waterfront. With polls telling us NZ First will be the kingmaker after the election, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Aucklanders to permanently resolve the port issue," Stop Stealing Our Harbour said in a posting on Facebook.
"Whether NZ First is your cup of tea or not, Winston Peters deserves acknowledgement and applause for tackling one of Auckland's biggest opportunities head-on. He is one of only a few politicians to strongly and openly advocate moving the port and revitalising Auckland's waterfront. His proposal could free our beautiful waterfront for generations to come.
"We are not port experts, so we can't say whether Whangarei's Northport is the best option or not or whether the transport links to Whangarei are workable, but we can cheer on ideas that advance transforming Auckland's great waterfront.
"So let's all enthusiastically show our support to anyone who has the courage to start discussing innovative ways of solving the port problem. Today it's Winston Peters who has thrown his hat in the ring and we should all acknowledge his vision," the lobby group said.
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern this morning told the Herald that Labour had committed to making a decision about the future of the port which is in the best interests of New Zealand.
Asked if Labour would respond to Peters' "cast-iron commitment" to move the port to Northport at Marsden Pt by 2027, Ardern said there was a range of options that needed to be given due consideration.
"There is no reason why that one should not be part of the mix, but we do need to make that decision in the best interests of the whole country, not just looking solely at issues of regional economic development. It has to be the best for all of us," she said.
Labour, Ardern said, was open to the discussion of moving the port long-term and had stood against port extensions that had led to the longer-term discussion.
Ardern wanted to see imported cars gone from Captain Cook Wharf.
"It's a ridiculously expensive carpark," she said.
Stop Stealing Our Harbour said it wanted Peters to put the issue at the very top of the agenda for coalition negotiations.
"Let's show him that the public supports his visionary position on the Auckland waterfront.
"If we're not shouting from the rooftops that the waterfront is an important issue for Aucklanders, there is a risk Winston Peters won't be encouraged to pursue his port policy and other politicians will continue to back the port rather than the people of Auckland.
"Regardless of what you think of Winston Peters, it is important we applaud his vision and courage for boldly proposing this idea," Stop Stealing our Harbour said.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff today said any decisions about the future of the port would have to involve Auckland Council, which owns 100 per cent of Ports of Auckland.
Goff said any plans to move the port would cost billions of dollars and require a solid business case that stacks up economically and environmentally.
He said it was a big asset for the city and should probably remain within city bounds, where it returns dividends of $60 million a year to council.
"I want to see the port moved, I think most Aucklanders do, but also believe there still should be a port of Auckland," Goff said.
Asked about a council proposal to move cars off Captain Cook Wharf to build a cruise ship terminal, Goff said his message to the port company was the wharf will come back to council in due course.
Central Auckland iwi Ngati Whatua Orakei this morning reiterated its support for moving the port. Spokesman Ngarimu Blair said the port was incompatible with a well-functioning and attractive CBD.
"New Zealand First's proposal ... would be great for Auckland and Northland. Our Te Tai Tokerau relations will relish such a move north and rightly so," Blair said.
Blair said Ngati Whatua had had initial discussions with potential partners to invest in and move the port, such as Waikato-Tainui, since Goff floated the idea of selling in May this year.
"This is the kind of investment that iwi can not only participate in but lead, as we have a clear and vested interest in Aotearoa and our communities. We are prepared to lead such discussions and will wait for the outcome of the election to progress those further."
Blair said Ngati Whatua Orakei remained totally opposed to any port extension further into the harbour, and is "bemused" at the council's current proposal to extend Captain Cook Wharf.
However, the Road Transport Forum, the lobby group representing the commercial road freight industry, slammed Peters' pledge as "economic vandalism" and "outrageous pork barrel politics".
Chief executive Ken Shirley said most goods that arrive at the port are consumed in Auckland or markets south of the city. That made the extra cost of transporting them from Northport "completely nonsensical".
"We have heard for a while now how enthusiastically interventionist New Zealand First is on the economy but legislating to force goods from one port to another is next-level - it is pure Stalinism.
"The huge investment that would be needed to the infrastructure of Northport and the transport links from there to Auckland are complete folly, we might as well ask taxpayers to stand around burning $100 bills."
Shirley said he had seen many bad election policies but "this one takes the cake".
"If Labour or National entertain this kind of rubbish during post-election negotiations then they deserve the full wrath of the electorate that will surely follow."
National Road Carriers chief executive David Aitken said even after a massive upgrade of the rail from Auckland to Marsden Pt, Northport could not handle the volume of freight now coming through the Ports of Auckland.
He said tunnels on the line will not accommodate two tier car transporter rolling stock and result in a car transport truck and trailer unit on the highway every two and a half minutes at the current levels of vehicles being imported.
This would require SH1 being upgraded to four lanes to cope with all the extra traffic, Aitken said.
Peters wants the relocation completed by the end of 2027 - opening up 77ha of prime waterfront land for public use and the development of a new cruise ship terminal.
His plan would stop vehicle deliveries by the end of 2019 and free up Captain Cook Wharf ahead of the America's Cup.