Auckland's New Mayor Wants Big Profits and Big Changes at Seaport

Ports of Auckland
File image courtesy Ports of Auckland

Published Nov 6, 2022 10:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

Top management at Ports of Auckland has promised to improve financial performance and safety standards after coming under sharp criticism from newly-elected mayor Wayne Brown.

Shortly after the election, Brown blasted the council-owned port for low dividend payments, and he outlined his expectations for financial performance, health and safety, emissions and other areas. However, he firmly ruled out any arrangements for the sale of public land or private management by an outside firm. 

“Ports of Auckland Limited (POAL) has not been serving Aucklanders well. It has not operated as a successful business in recent years. Its financial return to ratepayers has been paltry given the value of the council’s capital investment. Its workers have tragically died on the job. It recently wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on a botched automation project,” said Brown in a letter addressed to Ports of Auckland board chairperson Jan Dawson.

In response to the letter, Dawson admitted that the performance of the port from a safety and financial perspective over the past four years has not been satisfactory, adding that the board and management has committed to a strategy to reverse the trend. The board aims to return to paying the city council a dividend of $31.5 million annually in the medium term.

In the 2022 financial year, the port paid a dividend of $9 million to the Auckland Council compared to $2.3 million the previous year. The port suffered a loss of $6.4 million compared to a profit of $28.7 million the year before, due in large part to a $40 million writeoff for the failed automation project for the Fergusson container terminal.

Safety remains a major issue at the port after 15 lost time injuries in the 2022 fiscal year. "I acknowledge that the safety performance of the port in the past has been unacceptable. Fixing this is a key focus of the board,” said Dawson.

To restore its status, Ports of Auckland is implementing a three-year strategy dubbed ‘Regaining our Mana’ designed to lift its performance, deliver a reasonable return to its sole shareholder and rebuild trust with Aucklanders. 

While he has called for increasing the port's profitability, Mayor Brown also campaigned for substantial changes to its land uses and operations, some of which would have an effect on revenue. These proposals include ceasing all used car imports at Bledisoe Wharf near downtown Auckland; restricting land-side container transport to rail carriage only, removing trucks from the road; and transforming a section of the working waterfront into publicly-accessible space.