Moving the container port away from Auckland would be a disaster and likely lead to massive job losses in the city a leading logistics expert believes.
Professor Tava Olsen of the University of Auckland's Business School says talk of shifting the Fergusson wharf terminal away from the Auckland waterfront makes no sense financially or logistically and fears it could result in thousands of Auckland jobs being slashed.
"I am strongly of the view it should stay," she says. "Maybe it is something to talk about in 20 or 50 years but right now it seems a very premature discussion to me."
Olsen, who researches logistics and supply chain management with an interest in the Ports of Auckland, says apart from the 500 jobs at the port itself, there could be big losses among the 160,000 people employed in Auckland in port-related industries like freight forwarding.
Although she expects most of the jobs will move to other regions, Olsen believes it would be a disaster for Auckland if the port were to go.
"A new port would also require a huge investment (a figure of up to $5 billion as a starting point has been mooted); there are a lot of other key projects I could think of to spend that money on."
She says logistically a move is flawed: "Most of the goods passing through the terminal are destined for Auckland anyway and it makes no sense to ship them somewhere else and then have to transport them back to Auckland.
"This would involve huge costs in upgrading roading, rail and other infrastructure and will end up making everything we buy much more expensive."
Her comments come as debate swirls in the city over whether the port should be moved and where it should go. Faced with the possibility the existing port will not be big enough to cope with the demands on it in 25 to 40 years, a Port Future Study was established in 2015 to look at options.
Made up of a wide range of interested parties including port owners the Auckland Council, it concluded that there is "sufficient probability" of a new port for freight being required and planning should proceed on that basis.
A list of possible alternative sites (including Tauranga) was drawn up and narrowed down to two – the Firth of Thames and the Manukau Harbour.
During last year's general election campaign the Winston Peters-led New Zealand First party introduced a third possibility when it suggested the car import business be relocated to Northport in Northland and other functions dispersed to the regions too.
However the waters have been further muddied since the change of government last year, with the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement now committing to a ports future study of its own.
Olsen is the latest of a number of experts who have come out against the idea.
A former colleague of Olsen's at the university and a former CEO of shipping company Hapburg-Lloyd (NZ) Ltd, Brian Stocking, last year labelled the idea "short-sighted". He said he believed there was no other realistic option and advised the council to leave the port where it is.
And in remarks last November, Don Braid, the managing director of New Zealand's largest transport firm Mainfreight, said relocating the port didn't make sense and the notion of moving it to Northland in particular was a "dumb idea".
Olsen says she thinks part of the reason for wanting to move the port away is Auckland's obsession with property and the need to create more space on the waterfront.
"But there is a lot of under utilised land down there now," she says. "When you really start looking at the downtown area there is a fair bit of space which with better planning could be used far more efficiently. I would really suggest looking at this rather than moving the port.
"I was recently in Vancouver and when you compare how they have developed their downtown area with Auckland, it's like night and day."
Olsen says she also worries about the environmental impact of a move, particularly the level of carbon emissions that would result in transporting goods by road back to Auckland from a new port location.
"We mustn't forget the costs of this either," she says. "At present we are not too green in our transportation systems, but maybe that will change over the next 20 years as we move more towards being electric."
She says she does not think the option of moving to the Manukau Harbour is a good one: "The Manukau bar is dangerous and the harbour very shallow and while I'm no expert on this, I believe they would need to do massive dredging to make it workable.
"I'd be more in favour of using Auckland as it is now and growing facilities at Tauranga and Northport more slowly."