A long-awaited report suggests Manukau harbour is the best place to relocate Auckland’s port, which will soon reach capacity.
It also said the current downtown Auckland location has just 30 years’ capacity left, giving the Government 10-15 years to make a final decision.
The report, for the Ministry of Transport, supports the findings of an Auckland Council-commissioned study in 2016, which rejected expanding existing ports to take over Auckland’s business.
But the Government has put off making a final decision on the issue, despite having now received two reports on the matter.
“That decision needs to be informed by policy analysis that is still to be completed. As a result, it will be up to a future government to determine a preferred location,” say Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Associate Transport Minister Shane Jones.
The new report, like its 2016 predecessor, favours the Firth of Thames as second choice for a future port, and discounts expanding Northport and/or Tauranga as the replacement for Auckland.
Manukau Harbour came up as the preferred location for a new port in the latest report, although it conceded that consenting could be problematic.
The economic costs of shifting the port would outweigh the economic benefits for all options considered, including Manukau.
The findings have been backed by Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, whose council owns Ports of Auckland.
“The Sapere report completely backs up my concerns and concerns raised by Auckland Council since the start of the Upper North Island port study led by Wayne Brown,” said Goff.
“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,” he said in a statement.
An earlier report, released by the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy Independent Working Group, identified Northport as the preferred option.
Following the release of the Working Group’s report late last year, the ministry, along with the Treasury and the Provincial Development Unit, were tasked with further work to inform a relocation decision.
Independent consultants Sapere were drafted in to produce the latest report.
NZ First is known to favour moving the port to Northland.
Auckland Council-owned Ports of Auckland has welcomed the use of “a wide range of people with deep expertise in port planning, transport and the supply chain”.
“The conclusions of the report are no surprise to us. They are in line with the conclusions of all but one of the many reports on this topic that have been commissioned over the last decade,” said CEO Tony Gibson.
“We are also pleased to see that any future decision will be informed by robust policy analysis,” he said.
Manukau had been the location favoured in 2016 by an Auckland Council-commissioned study into alternatives to the port remaining on the CBD waterfront.
However, the 17-member study group in 2016 stopped short of recommending Manukau, due to unresolved engineering questions, including the risk of the port closing in poor weather.
“The assessment indicates that a port at the Manukau would be feasible and safe,” said the 2016 study.
“Weather conditions on the west coast could lead to the port being closed occasionally, and this could become a more important concern over time because climate change is projected to increase the frequency and intensity of adverse weather,” said the study.
Sapere said a consultant it used was more confident about the viability of Manukau.
“In [consultant] Black Quay’s view, shipping access to the harbour is a sound concept, taking into account that modern vessels likely to use a new port in the Manukau Harbour are significantly more advanced and manoeuvrable than those in the past.”
However, Sapere highlighted industry concerns and left open whether it would be popular for shipping.
“Shipping line representatives concluded that they would prefer a new port on the Firth of Thames, however a container port on the Manukau Harbour could work well for shipping routes from Australia and Asia,” said the report released on Tuesday.
“Ultimately, shipping lines will call where the main ports are located, while preferring to take the lower cost option, where available,” it said.
The 2016 study found more work was needed on key issues about the viability of Manukau, such as locating a major port on the west coast.
“The effect of a west coast versus east coast location on shipping and the competitiveness of the Auckland port and the national supply chain – on Auckland’s long-term transport strategy, and mana whenua values.”
The 2016 report had estimated Auckland’s existing downtown port may be able to cope with rising freight volumes until around 2060 or beyond.
Goff called the new report “an evidence-based, independent process” for looking at how to move Auckland’s port operation.
“The current port land needs to be returned to the people of Auckland, but it has to be done in a way that will not disadvantage our people or businesses,” he said.
“It is my firm expectation that, following the election, the new Government will immediately start work on a facts-based options analysis of the Manukau or the Firth of Thames.”
“They must properly engage with stakeholders, in particular Aucklanders and Auckland Council,” said Goff.