The study on the future of Auckland Port to be released on Friday is likely to recommend a “super port” near Waimangu Point in the Firth of Thames to be built within the next 35 years.
And the port is likely to replace both Auckland and Tauranga.
POLITIK understands the study will reject the Manukau Harbour proposal because it would pose huge technical and resource consent challenges.
Northland has also been rejected because of the difficulty transporting cargo backwoods and forwards across Auckland city. POLITIK has spoken to two sources close to the Study Group and has been briefed on the details of the report.
One source says Waimangu Point offers several advantages:
- There is 15m of water depth almost right to the shore
- It is closer to South Auckland
- And it is closer to the Waikato
However, it would involve a large infrastructure build. It is approximately 40km by current roads from the southern motorway and the main trunk line.
A second source, familiar with the report has told POLITIK that the proposal is predicated on both the Auckland and Tauranga ports reaching capacity within 35 years.
Waimango would take over the big container ship trade from both existing ports to serve the Auckland and Waikato markets.
There will, of course, be huge resource consent and iwi issues involved in establishing a new port on a pristine North Island east coast location.
But though iwi have not been formally consulted, POLITIK understands that 13 iwi have been closely involved in the Port of Auckland study group and that another source has suggested that iwi might have some financial involvement in the eventual port.
Iwi – Ngati Whatua — are also believed to be involved in a proposal by the Port to build a multi-story carpark to hold the imported cars that currently sprawl all over Bledisloe Wharf.
That proposal is linked to the Study Group.
The carpark would be on land owned by Ngati Whatua in the old rail yards and connected to the wharf by a tunnel under Quay Street.
POLITIK understands that the Study Group’s proposal requires no direct Government funding — though it was unclear who would foot the bill for the road and rail infrastructure that would be needed to connect the port to the motorway and rail systems.
There is also an intriguing set of options as to how the port might be paid for.
As the proposal was unveiled to POLITIK, it was said that costs would fall differently depending on how the decision to move was triggered.
If the port made the decision, then it would foot the bill.
But if the Council ordered the port out, then it would bear some of the cost.
That might be able to be accommodated by a public-private partnership.
In the meantime, the port will still want to extend Bledisloe Wharf.
It will make the point that if it is to raise the funds to shift it will need a steady income before it does.
Ironically Waimangu Point was investigated back in the 1950s as a site for the oil refinery that eventually went to Whangarei.
The attraction at the point is that deep water – down to 17m — is within four kilometres of the shore. That’s a relatively short channel to have to dredge.
Earlier this year, Transport Minister Simon Bridges told POLITIK that he believed Auckland needed a port.
“80% of its freight is delivered within 20k of the port so I think there would need to be pretty powerful arguments and evidence to move from the status quo,” he said.
But Auckland business will make the argument that may be so. However it is within that 20 km radius that are the most congested roads in Auckland.
It’s hard to estimate the cost of a motorway to the port, but Wellington’s Transmission Gully is costing around $25 million a kilometre — that would put the cost of a four-lane highway to the port to link up with the Southern Motorway at about $1.5 billion.
The Government would want the Central Rail Loop and the second Harbour Crossing out of the way before it committed to that sort of money in Auckland
There would also be a rail line.
Earlier this year, KiwiRail Asset Manager, Dave Gordon told a Whangarei meeting that there was is no efficient freight rail link through the Auckland isthmus.
“The rail network in Auckland is getting busier and busier, you would probably have to double or triple track the line from Newmarket or Avondale through to outside the Auckland isthmus area.,” he said.
He said that would cost another $2-3 billion.
Clearly the Waimangu Port would not require that level of build, but even so, it would look likely that rail could cost $1 billion — so all up the infrastructure could come to around $2 – $3 billion.
How much of that the Government would pay for will be a big question.
But with most ports worldwide dredging their channels out to accommodate vessels with a 15m draft both Auckland and Tauranga which are currently limited to 13 m draft vessels, will face increasing challenges to keep operating.
It will be the operational limits and costs in both ports that will eventually drive them to Waimango Point.