12 Nov 2019

Auckland port move: Cabinet ministers deliberate on decision

2:06 pm on 12 November 2019

Cabinet ministers now have a copy of a report urging the government to move the Auckland port up north, but say no final decisions have been made.

AUCKLAND - JULY 12 2018:Freight ship in Ports of Auckland. its New Zealands largest commercial port handling more than NZ$20 billion of goods per year

Freight ship in Ports of Auckland. Photo: 123RF

A feasibility study on creating "Northport" was commissioned, after New Zealand First struck a coalition deal with Labour.

It would be a huge infrastructure project if it goes ahead, with a price tag of about $10 billion.

There would be roading upgrades, a new 18km rail line to connect Northport to the main trunk line between Auckland and Northland, and a new freight distribution terminal.

A working group has delivered its report, which has found freight operation in Auckland is "no longer viable", economically or environmentally, and recommends Northport go ahead.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson still had questions, he told reporters, that he would "need answered if [he] were to go down that path".

Finance Minister Grant Robertson

Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

But he said, even as acknowledged by the Ports of Auckland themselves, as the "nature of shipping changes, they don't have the capacity from the 2030s onwards to be the kind of deep water port that's needed".

"We are going to have to address these issues, is Northport the right one? We've got to analyse that - we haven't made any final decisions yet."

Main areas of concern for him included the "balance in the upper North Island" generally, with the Port of Tauranga, "working out where the best balance is".

Mr Robertson said he would want detailed information about the logistics, including the road and rail links from Auckland up to Northport that would be needed.

Ministers would have to make a decision "soon", he said, and part of that would be talking to stakeholders like Auckland Council.

"Clearly, a critical stakeholder in terms of their ownership of the Port ... it's an important matter and we'll deal with it properly."

He was not surprised Auckland Council had already started talking about compensation for any land affected.

"Clearly, it's a tract of land with a lot of value attached to it, and so there's a lot of benefit for Auckland, whatever it's used for."

Regional Economic Development Minister and New Zealand First MP Shane Jones said there was a "direction of travel the majority of Aucklanders want to see a rationalisation of the Port".

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, also Forestry Minister, Infrastructure Minister, Associate Finance Minister, Associate State Owned Enterprises Minister, Associate Transport Minister

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

He had been reminded the Crown did not own the Port, and he was "acutely aware that Mr Goff [the Auckland mayor] wants fair value but we've already started on the infrastructure".

About $100 million from the Provincial Growth Fund was already being spent on "tarting up" the rail connection, he said, and "in that regard we've just got to keep on going".

But Mr Jones said there was still a Cabinet process to go through.

National leader Simon Bridges questioned the government's ability to actually deliver Northport, if it did get the green light.

"We've got a government that can't deliver houses for KiwiBuild, it can't deliver light rail down Dominion Road, I don't think therefore we should get too worked up about this".

But he said it was a "good question to ask", if over time it was something Aucklanders indicated they wanted.

"But from there everything else is much more difficult and contestable - questions about who pays, how much, where it moves to, who owns it?"

The whole proposal had been driven by politics and New Zealand First, Mr Bridges said, "rather than good, sensible thinking and working through what could and should happen."

It was no secret the New Zealand First ministers in Cabinet were enthusiastically supportive of Northport, Mr Robertson said, but in the end it would be up to the whole Cabinet to decide.

Labour has fulfilled its coalition promise to New Zealand First by conducting the feasibility study, anything further will now have to negotiated by Cabinet ministers.

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