Ports Critical of Plan to Move Auckland Operations to Northport


Published Dec 19, 2019 6:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

The New Zealand Ministry of Transport has released a report saying that Ports of Auckland’s CBD freight operation is no longer economically or environmentally viable, and it is in the interests of taxpayers and ratepayers that it be progressively closed. This has met with opposition from both the Port of Auckland and Northport - the government's target port to “take over much or all of Auckland’s existing and projected future freight business.”

The Ministry of Transport's final Report by the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy (UNISCS) Working Group was prepared by an independent working group of experts who reported to the Ministers of Finance, Transport, and Regional Development.

The strategy includes priorities for investment in rail, roads and other supporting infrastructure to ensure a robust supply chain that delivers to New Zealand’s interest over the next 30 years. It recommends that New Zealand's proposed new two-port configuration should be supported by a rejuvenated North Auckland rail line and spur to Northport, and a new inland freight hub in northwest Auckland to complement and be connected to Metroport in the south. It also recommends that Port of Tauranga’s existing expansion plans should proceed to accommodate growth. Auckland’s cruise ship terminal should be modernized; and the Waitemata become a commuter, tourism and recreation harbor. 

The strategy states that the transition should begin immediately and be fully completed by no later than 2034.

However, Northport says it does not have enough space to handle all of Ports of Auckland's operations. Northport, situated at Marsden Point at the mouth of Whangarei Harbour, is New Zealand’s northernmost deepwater port. It currently caters for large, multi-purpose vessels and full cargo handling facilities are available from its 570-meter linear berth.

Ports of Auckland says closing the port will increase the cost of imports by between NZ$533 million and NZ$626 million a year. Divided between 1.7 million Aucklanders, that's between NZ$313 and NZ$368 a year each.

The study, carried out by independent economic consultancy NZIER, looks at what would happen if Auckland's port was closed and freight had to be delivered to Auckland from distant ports. It says that closing Auckland's port would increase carbon emissions because freight must travel further by land to reach market in Auckland. CO2 emissions will rise between 121,000 and 212,000 tonnes annually.

Ports of Auckland's CEO Tony Gibson said "Some people claim that closing Auckland's port would not increase prices, but this is not true. Currently, the price of imports through distant ports like Tauranga is kept low by competition. Think of it as the 'Gull effect' for ports. Just as opening a Gull petrol station lowers prices at stations nearby, having a port in Auckland keeps import prices low."

A Neighbourly poll indicates 77 percent of people think the move would be great for Northland's economy, 12 percent think it would be an environmental disaster and seven percent think it would be terrible for the roads.

Nonetheless, the strategy says the Government should adopt its recommendations as policy immediately and should give the ports and their owners until December 1, 2020 to reach commercial agreement on how it should be implemented. If this is not achieved, the Government should introduce legislation to Parliament to reform the Port Companies Act 1988 and take all other necessary steps to make the recommendations happen.