Northport wants a slice of Auckland's car import business.

Marsden Maritime Holdings (MMH), which operates the Marsden Pt port, has urged the North Island vehicle industry, Ports of Auckland and Auckland Council to consider using some of the hundreds of hectares of land at Marsden Point in Northland to future-proof the upper North Island vehicle import industry.

The Government is looking at the country's ports and rail structure as part of its Upper North Island Supply Chain Study, and for Northport to expand to its full potential a rail spur and upgraded rail line are needed.

Upgrading Northland's rail line to Auckland and building a spur to Marsden Pt would cost around $1.3 billion over the next 40 years and an announcement on the rail line is expected very soon.

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Now, MMH wants decision-makers to explore fully the potential for changing the vehicle import business model alongside any decision about plans to barge cars from Bledisloe Wharf up the Tāmaki estuary.

Chairman Murray Jagger said the company envisages a potential new business model that would see cars discharged from vessels directly to purpose-built storage, vehicle preparation and distribution facilities immediately outside the deep-water port of Northport in Whangārei Harbour. All in a single movement, which would replace multiple movements in Auckland.

The port-side storage facilities would give importers, manufacturers and dealers full access at any time to any vehicle, enabling them to cut back on infrastructure and offer just-in-time, customer-ready delivery, Jagger said.

Ports of Auckland already has a stake in 180ha of greenfield development land at Marsden Point, through its 19.9 per cent shareholding in MMH.

Northport's footprint is larger than the whole of Auckland's CBD and port area.
Northport's footprint is larger than the whole of Auckland's CBD and port area.

Around 65ha of this is port-zoned land on the boundary of Northport. Another 115ha, designated as port zone and light industry, sits behind it, all available for long-term lease to companies wanting to make use of the port.

"That's a combined potential area of 180ha, more than twice the area of the 77ha available at Ports of Auckland," he said.

There is also another 520ha of commercially-zoned land nearby. This brings the amount of designated port and commercially-zoned land to 700ha, more than twice the amount of land occupied by the entire Auckland CBD.

Northport wants some of Auckland's used car import work.
Northport wants some of Auckland's used car import work.

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.

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Jagger said space aside, Northport is ideally placed to receive vehicle imports and it could comfortably accommodate today any car carrier operating in New Zealand.

He said the port could store around 5000 cars on a paved storage area within the port as an interim arrangement.

"There is huge opportunity at this very moment to change the model of vehicle importation and distribution in the upper North Island, and to future-proof the vehicle industry," Jagger said.

"We would like simply for those making the decisions about Auckland vehicle imports to take all options into account, including the Northport option."

Jagger said concerns about adding to traffic congestion on State Highway 1 could be addressed as part of the Northport option and a wider roading and transport strategy for Northland.

NZ First leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters gave a pre-election "cast iron commitment" that would see Auckland port operations move to Northport.

"The days of the Ports of Auckland as a container port and as a car yard are numbered. Aucklanders want their harbour back while Northlanders want the jobs and opportunity that would come from Northport's transformation," he said at the time.

All tunnels and bridges along the North Auckland Line were inspected in late 2018-early this year to determine what was needed to bring them up to modern standards.

Geotechnical tests were also carried out along the proposed Oakleigh-Northport route.