Rarely have transport studies have been greeted with as much cynicism as the prosaically named Upper North Island Supply Chain Study which was released yesterday.
The study proposes that Auckland port be closed and its work shared between Tauranga and Whangarei.
The study was chaired by Northland entrepreneur, Wayne Brown, a frequent Government go-to person for studies like this, who is also a close friend of Shane Jones.
Also on the study was KiwiRail CEO, Greg Miller and former Simunovich Fisheries executive, Vaughan Wilkinson, both also friends of Jones.
One Auckland political lobbyist said it was a study with a pre-determined outcome.
The study considered a number of options involving the ports of Auckland, Tauranga and Whangarei.
It comes on the back of a 2017 proposal to build a new super Auckland port at Orere Point in the Firth of Thames.
But the study has instead proposed that Tauranga and Whangarei be the main ports and that Auckland be closed down.
Development of the Whangarei port would cost $6.06 billion – of which over $2 billion would be on improving rail access from Auckland and then across Auckland — and would also require the “four laning” of State Highway One from Auckland to Whangarei, a proposal which has already been rejected by Transport Minister Phil Twyford.
The study group plan to produce their final report which will focus on “priorities for infrastructure investment, optimal regulatory settings, future challenges on which government and industry will need to work together and key actions to be taken over the next five years and beyond to implement a two-port strategy.”
But the proposal is already well behind the timetable set for it by NZ First leader, Winston Peters, on the election campaign in 2017.
In a speech to the Economic Development Agencies Conference in August that year, Peters promised that a New Zealand First government would legislate o require:
- “The Port of Auckland transfer vehicle deliveries from Auckland to Northport by the end of 2019.”
- “That the Port of Auckland ceases container operations at the Port of Auckland by no later than 31 December 2027; and the full development of Northport as a mega-port.”
- “Immediately fund the upgrade of the Auckland to Northland rail line.”,
- “Commission the design of a world-class cruise passenger terminal for Auckland.”
- “By the end of 2018, designate land near to Northport in Whangarei District as New Zealand’s first Special Economic Area.”
- “By the end of 2019, subject to discussions with the people of Invercargill and Southland, designate land within Invercargill City near to South Port as New Zealand’s second Special Economic Area.”
That was Peters’ bid, but by the time the coalition negotiations had ended, all that was left was a promise by the coalition government to commission a feasibility study on the options for moving the Ports of Auckland, including giving Northport serious consideration.
The study group’s proposal will face strong opposition; obviously from the Auckland Council but also (and importantly) from the New Zealand Shipping federation who said in their submission to the study group that the needed to recognise that Ships went where the cargo was.
“It is obvious that the growth, development and even the existence of a port are entirely dependent on the cargo flows, inwards and outwards,” said Annabel Young, the Federation’s Executive Director.
“Questions about port locations and viability are inevitably questions about cargo movements.”
Young said that the 2017 study found that 70% of the cargo coming into the Waitemata port were bound for Auckland, usually south Auckland.
“Distance from the point of origin to port (or from port to the point of sale) is just one factor in choosing the port, but it is a very important factor,” she said.
“ It is entirely possible that the natural flow of cargo displaced from Auckland would be to move via Port of Tauranga.
“That is, it should not be assumed that Auckland cargo moves via Whangarei.
“This is the case even if there is a rail and road link.”
The Waikato Regional Council favoured having three ports .becauee they provided “strong competition to the benefit of exporters and importers”.
However, they conceded that it might be possible to move Auckland’s controversial car import trade to Whangarei.
National – which holds the Northland seat — has not directly criticised the Northport proposal.
Instead, it says it has an open mind about shifting Auckland’s port activity long-term but is sceptical about the process underpinning the study.
Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says the study looked like a political play by Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones to succeed in the north.
“The worry is that the process is heading towards a pre-determined outcome,” said Bishop.
But given that none of p[eters’ 2017 deadlines have so far been met; the other argument could be that the study is yet another headed for a dusty top shelf probably never to be seen again.
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