The cases for and against moving the Ports of Auckland operations to Northport have been fully outlined as we know them this week in our series Port in a Storm. Journalists Simon Wilson and Andrea Fox have explored the issue and looked at the options.
The case for the move is now compelling.
• Part 1: The Big Idea
• Part 2: For and against: Why move the Auckland port?
• Part 3: The lure of the Waikato: Why not go south?
• Part 4: The North of Plenty: The prospects for Northland
• Part 5: Crunching the numbers to shift the Auckland port
We now know the prospect of the status quo is almost as expensive as moving. Much more dredging is required to bring the Rangitoto Channel approach to the port up to modern requirements. The Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working group, after reviewing Ernest & Young estimates, put the cost of retaining operations at the mouth of the Waitemata Harbour at $8 billion. Most estimates on moving land at a figure of around $10b.
Effectively, that's a $2b difference for a purpose-built, future-proofed port operation - with the added spin-off of Auckland's waterfront potential untapped and available to provide more than what an international city should but currently doesn't offer.
Similarly, the best option for the new site of port facilities is a convincing one. Muriwai and Manukau are simply too perilous for shipping; the Firth of Thames would be a logistical and environmental nightmare.
Critics have pointed out the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working group has come about as a Coalition bargaining chip, played by NZ First to bolster its support in Northland where it relies on votes to survive. That may well be so, but it doesn't change the facts. Auckland Council is getting a poor dividend for its outlay and faces much more outlay just to keep the operations running.
Whether this case for shifting is the result of a political power play does not matter either to the many, many residents who have been mobilised in recent years to oppose increased port operations, and the further encroachments needed to keep the current site viable.
There are always agendas and vested interests to be negotiated around major infrastructure. That some are more vociferous than others is only to be expected. There will also be flaws in any assessment of a project of this magnitude. Picking at any perceived faults in the working group's methods or motives will not alter the overriding conclusion.
Editorial: NZ's excuses on plastic pollution fail to stack up
Editorial: Fair fiscal winds blow Finance Minister's way
As Wilson points out today, shifting the port operation is more than packing up wharves in one place and building them in another. This is also about taking the movement of freight off the roads and putting it on rail - container trucks and car transporters gone. It's likely to bring the largest reduction in traffic on Auckland roads, certainly since the Northern Busway opened in 2008.
All that said, the next steps must be taken with caution. Making the right decision is only the first of many hoops to get through. Crucially, the right people will be needed, with the mana and work ethic to make this happen.
The working party is recommending the Government acts immediately. The Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy report went to the Cabinet development committee on Wednesday and from there it will go to the full Cabinet for a decision. An announcement is expected before Christmas. This could be the best gift ever - for Auckland, Northland and New Zealand.