Manukau, not Northland: new port report

A new port report before Cabinet is a U-turn on the last one, which recommended Auckland's port be moved to Northland

Moves to shift Auckland's port from the CBD to Northland have ground to a halt on the back of a new report before Cabinet that suggests Manukau Harbour is a better option.

The Government officially released the report on Tuesday after Newsroom published details about the Ministry of Transport's new analysis - which was contracted through economic consultancy Sapere.

Manukau Harbour was the highest-ranked option out of the five port moves examined, but costs outweighed the benefits on all five relocation options (Northport, Manukau, Firth of Thames, and Port of Tauranga).

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said the report backed up his concerns about an earlier report from the Upper North Island Supply Chain Study (UNISCS) that concluded Northport was the most viable option if the port were moved out of Auckland.

“The Brown report started with a conclusion—wanting to move the Ports of Auckland to Northport - and worked backwards. It failed to engage with stakeholders and was quite frankly a shoddy opinion piece not based on facts."

Wayne Brown, the man who led the UNISCS, said consultants behind the latest report should give taxpayers their $2 million back if moving Auckland's port to Manukau Harbour was what they had recommended.

"I would defend my report against anything that's as dumb as saying that they should do that.

"They've got a bloody cheek to spend twice as much money on a group that never even spoke to us to check anything.

"We spoke to 80 organisations in the field. And we had real skillsets, not just some ability to lick boots."

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said officials had not yet provided advice on the "costs, risks, and uncertainties" of Sapere's recommendations. 

The Sapere report concluded there was a 10-15 year window for any decision on relocating the port and the current downtown Auckland facility had enough capacity for three decades. 

Earlier, Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said he wouldn't comment on the report's contents, but signalled he would be happy to once the report was released.

"Much to my distress, you seem to have perfect information yet we have not even released the report.

"I have never had any compunction in releasing everything that has been paid for by the Ministry of Transport since the Wayne Brown report."

'I have not been able to get that over the line'

The new report's conclusions makes moving Auckland's port an election issue with Jones set to contest the Northland seat in what could be a crucial electorate contest for NZ First. 

Recent poll results have raised questions about whether the party will be able to reach the 5 percent threshold. 

"The ability to find consensus about where, when and how the port would be relocated ... I have not been able to get it over the line."

An investigation into moving Auckland's port to Northland was part of the coalition agreement between Labour and NZ First.

"I don't want to part company in any manner or form with Grant Robertson," Jones said.

"What was promised in the coalition agreement in terms of a report with an accent on the north. The two of us delivered that.

"However, the ability to find consensus about where, when and how the port would be relocated ... I have not been able to get it over the line."

The UNISCS reported back to ministers at the end of last year and suggested that moving the port to Northland would free up valuable land in Auckland's CBD.

"Ports of Auckland's CBD freight operation is no longer economically or environmentally viable, and is constrained by landside infrastructure failure. It is in the interests of taxpayers and ratepayers that it be progressively closed, and the land it currently occupies be progressively rezoned for higher and better uses," the final UNISCS report said.

Robertson and Twyford said last year that Brown's report had left several questions unanswered around other options for a port move.

Cabinet approved $2m for the Ministry of Transport to conduct another investigation into the viability of moving the port. Newsroom understands economics consultancy Sapere was contracted to do this report.

Auckland-based urban geographer Ben Ross (who personally prefers the Firth of Thames option*) said the main advantage of a Manukau Harbour move was that it would be right next door to Auckland's "big three" industrial complexes of Southdown, Onehunga and Wiri. 

"What that would mean is that the containers come off the boat and the cars come off the boat and they're already in those industrial complexes. They wouldn't need to be transferred by truck or train as they are now at the Port of Auckland.

"So you're removing a transport step. That's one of the big advantages."

'Everyone dredges. What's the big deal?"

NZ Shipping Federation executive director Annabel Young said there were major shipping issues with a Manukau Harbour move that would make it less than economic for the shipping industry.

Manukau Harbour is on the West Coast of the North Island, which means that prevailing currents and wind continuously drive sand into it. Most of our ports are located on the East Coast for this reason.

That would mean a huge amount of dredging would be required. Dredging is the removal of sediment from the bottom of a waterway. In the case of commercial ports it is normally done to make them deeper so that bigger ships can get inside.

Previous studies have noted dredging would have to be done annually, but Young said continuous dredging would be required and both the channel and the entrance to the harbour would need to be dredged.

The amount needed would dwarf anything currently seen here and raise environmental issues too. Sand from the dredging would likely have to be dumped on an already-existing ecosystem.

"The Auckland Future Ports Study - of which I was a member - they commissioned Ernst & Young and one of the things in that report is 'dredging-smedging' - everyone dredges what's the big deal," Young said.

"If you've got the volumes of somewhere like Shanghai or Singapore, dredging is a smaller cost, but relative to the amount of shipping that would be going through [Manukau], dredging would be a huge cost."

With most of the country's ports on the East Coast, Manukau would also be more logistically unappealing for shipping firms with longer trips required to visit other high-volume ports. 

Brown said UNSCIS had dismissed Manukau Harbour right at the start based on safety concerns after it received a warning from the insurance industry that it would not insure ships that docked at Manukau Harbour. 

"The maritime insurance industry is not interested in the West Coast nor are the big ships interested in going down that side." 

*This article has been amended to clarify that Ross favours the Firth of Thames option

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