The "jewel" of Auckland's waterfront real estate may soon be opened up for public use, as the council looks into a plan to rid the Ports of Auckland of the thousands of cars it stores.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson are investigating a proposal to use barges to transport imported cars loaded off container ships at the ports to a location in South Auckland.
For decades, both Captain Cook and Bledisloe wharves have stored up to 300,000 cars annually, as a rotating fleet of new vehicles are temporarily left there for two or three days before trucks can freight them off to car yards.
This week, Goff told the Weekend Herald a submission was being considered from New Zealand logistics company PTS Group to barge the cars stored at PoAL up the Tāmaki estuary south to PTS' own Highbrook car depot.
"I think the really exciting idea is to barge the cars off the wharf and we know that can be done. We know there are sites they can be barged to," Goff said.
"That requires some level of investment in various things, dredging and so on.
"But what it would do is it would enable us potentially to get the cars off the wharf on the day they arrive. So you've got a much faster throughput."
A single barge would transport 250 cars from the wharf at a time, while the remainder could potentially be stored in a new five-storey parking building about to be completed on Bledisloe Wharf facing onto Quay St.
An electric barge with zero emissions is the desired option for Goff and PoAL, much like the first electric tug-boat purchased by the ports this week.
A single barge could make two trips between Highbrook and PoAL each day and, according to a PoAL estimate, remove 100 truck journeys away from the centre city.
Goff said a two-year timeframe to implement the barge proposal was realistic.
"If the study shows barging is a serious option and we should pursue it, we'd want to do that within the space of a couple of years. We're not going to muck around on that," he said.
Goff said PTS Group already took 80 per cent of the used cars from Auckland wharves to its Highbrook property and "obviously they could potentially do more".
"If it were to be to Highbrook, that's an area that's in the south where most of the vehicle processing work takes place," Goff said.
"It gets the trucks and the traffic off the city to Highbrook interchange, which is the most congested part of the motorway [SH1]. That's one of the options that clearly the ports would be looking at."
PTS could not be reached for comment.
Removing the cars from Captain Cook and Bledisloe wharves would have a number of independent benefits, Goff said.
For a start, it would enable Bledisloe Wharf to be converted to allow mega cruise ships to moor there.
That would prevent the need for two proposed mooring dolphin extensions to adjacent Queens Wharf at a ballooning cost of $16.9 million, and a contracting life span of 15 years.
"My preference in an ideal world would be to utilise Bledisloe because it involves no further intrusion into the harbour, as the Captain Cook wharf would need to be extended either with mooring buoys or the wharf itself being extended," Goff said.
"So, if that were possible, that would resolve a long-term issue in terms of access of cruise ships."
PoAL chief executive Tony Gibson said PoAl "welcomes this challenge from the Mayor" to speed up clearing cars off the wharves, despite already running "an extremely efficient car handling operation by world standards".
"We have been looking at barging as an option, so we are pleased to have the mayor's backing to take this investigation to the next stage," Gibson said.
Ultimately, Goff envisions the proposal would then leave Captain Cook wharf free for potential public space.
"Captain Cook wharf obviously we would like to bring back into the public realm in some way," Goff said.
"The critical thing for me on the port is to allow public access again to the water's edge.
"For 100 years we've had the red fence [barring the ports along Quay St], we've had the industrial use of the port, that's why ports were always created in the centre of the city.
"But over time you can see the port area becoming the jewel in the crown of the city. A range of things have been put up. Archimedia have put up an idea. Another group has talked about a waterfront stadium.
"Not all of those ideas will run but we need a process where we engage with Aucklanders and say, what do you most want to see happen on your wharf."