Auckland Council cops backlash over continued lobbying for assessment of Manukau Harbour, Firth of Thames as port locations

4:16 pm on 15 January 2020

By Nick Truebridge*

Plans to continue lobbying for the investigation of a new port in Auckland's south have drawn the ire of a Northland strategist.

Manukau Harbour

The Manukau Harbour is one of the locations identified in Auckland Council documents as a potential spot for a new port. Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

The Manukau Harbour, along with the Firth of Thames, are two locations identified in Auckland Council documents as potential spots for a new port.

The Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working group, headed by former Far North District Mayor and developer Wayne Brown, effectively nixed those options in its final report, citing insurance and environmental concerns.

But this week, a spokesperson said Auckland Council would continue to lobby for the two alternative options, despite the government-commissioned working group's recommendation to develop Northport so it can take over Auckland's freight business.

"Council advocated for an investigation of those sites as part of the government's Upper North Island Supply Chain Study project," she said.

"Council continues to advocate for those sites to be assessed for their suitability."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff this week said the Treasury and the Ministry of Transport had told Cabinet evidence in the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy (UNISCS) report "is not sufficiently clear for them to reach a view for a decision".

The government departments, according to Goff, also said alternative port options were "not adequately examined to justify the expenditure of over $10 billion".

"As part of the government's analysis this year, there needs to be an examination and cost benefit analysis of each of the alternative sites including the Manukau and Firth of Thames," Goff said.

"It could be that the Manukau Harbour is less likely for the reasons given but the UNISCS Working Group seems to have given it and the Firth of Thames site only a cursory examination."

The working group's report showed it discounted Manukau as an option due to the harbour's unfavourable entry conditions, in particular its shifting bar.

That, according to the working group, resulted in maritime insurers saying they "would not support any ongoing large container shipping through that harbour".

Meanwhile, the Firth of Thames received only two mentions in the working group's final report.

"Even assuming that a new super port in the Firth of Thames was granted a very contentious Resource Consent, it would require a capital outlay more than twice the other options to link the port up to the road and rail network, plus electricity, water and sewer services, and would potentially preclude ongoing competition for port operation and freight transport," it read.

A port in the firth would also have unspecified "environmental issues".

The working group added it would "not provide for regional development" and poorly serve projected growth in Auckland's north and northwest, "as all freight entering from the south would need to transit through the city to reach these areas".

Brown this week attacked Auckland Council's continued lobbying for an assessment of the Manukau Harbour and Firth of Thames.

"One phone call to the marine insurance industry and they won't even think about insuring any boats coming in there," he said.

"Auckland is part of New Zealand, although they don't realise that, New Zealand is not part of Auckland.

"And so we're looking at what is best for the upper North Island, not necessarily what is the best for Auckland."

Brown said the working group had been forced to conduct financial analysis of alternative options that were, in his opinion, "plainly stupid".

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