Spending billions to move the Ports of Auckland doesn't stack up. Photo: POAL

City planners who’ve “never looked further than the end of their noses” are being told to start looking at the big picture when it comes to Auckland’s port – to retain ownership, and leave it where it is. 

The advice comes from a man who knows shipping inside out and is now working with the University of Auckland’s Business School to link the academic world with real businesses. Brian Stocking is the former CEO of shipping company Hapburg-Lloyd (NZ) Ltd and executive director of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transportation. He said there is no realistic option when it comes to shifting operations from the Auckland waterfront. 

He told Newsroom the estimated $4-5 billion cost of a move to either the Manukau Harbour or the Firth of Thames is just a starting point, and takes no heed of the incredible amount of infrastructure that would be required to support the switch. He points out if the money can’t be found for roads or railways now – it won’t be found for a move which would leave us even further behind in paying for that much-needed infrastructure. 

Stocking says Aucklanders have forgotten what huge gains have already been made in terms of waterfront public space in the Viaduct Basin, where there is more on the drawing board yet to be realised – including the conversion of the Tank Farm to public space. 

“Auckland’s politicians have been very short-sighted over infrastructure in terms of development needs,” Stocking said. “Suddenly they’ve realised they’re going to have to take their fingers out and cater for the expanding population. There will be a lot of extra pressure on the city … and they’re not going to be able to develop infrastructure on peanuts. You can’t pull this extra money out of the air. So they are looking at it and saying, ‘you could flog off the port’, instead of looking at the value the port brings to our biggest city.”

Auckland Council took a full year dividend of $54.3 million from the port in the 2016 year – equivalent to $104 per household. The half year dividend to December was $25.3 million. Cruise ships alone bring in $1.5 million each for every day they spend in the city. Last season 101 cruise ships tied up downtown. Most of the cargo that arrives in Auckland is destined for the city. Sixty percent of it is raw materials for manufacturing hubs in Auckland. A quarter of a million cars land a year, and most of them don’t go far from the port. Automation is making operations slicker and quicker. Stocking said 160,000 people are employed in Auckland in port-related industries, including frieight forwarding. There are 500 jobs at the port alone. At the moment it is moving 900,000 containers a year. 

Stocking calls plans currently under investigation – to split the port’s operations from the council’s ownership of the 77 hectares of land there – “short sighted” and he doesn’t believe the resulting infrastructure spend will stack up long term against losing that income stream. 

He rolls his eyes over the idea that the Manukau Harbour has seriously been suggested as an option – the bar is dangerous, it’s not a deep water harbour, and “buildings will have to be knocked down galore to fit in a new operation”. Stocking said the practicalities of it don’t add up. 

As for Thames: “There are limited facilities as far as what the port space would require.” Stocking said it’s not just the locals you’d have to sell the idea to, but shipping companies would need to see the attraction of dropping off their loads in an area further from the final destinations of the cargo. New roads and rail would be needed, and the harbour dredged to about 14m to fit in the new big ships being built. Stocking doesn’t believe New Zealand will, in the near future anyway, see the new mega-container ships being built around the world, which would require an even deeper berth. The reason is simple – we don’t manufacture enough goods for export, and shipping economics rely on carrying goods in, and taking goods out, on the return trip. 

Whangarei has also been mentioned as a possible alternative, but that would not just involve a major lift in the quality of roads to the north (the same roads that are jammed tight every weekend, with logging trucks battling holiday traffic), but double-tracking and reinstating the railway line and creating a car hub somewhere like Kumeu for distribution. “You are talking 30 years to put that in place.” 

Stocking asks what exactly we will gain from the tremendous exercise of shifting the port. “What are you going to put there? A park? Walkways?”

“All these local politicians never face up to the facts. They made a cockup (in failing to plan for the future). Now they need money. So they try to sell off the airport and port.”  

This time, Stocking said, they need to think further into the future than releasing a bit of money that will be swallowed up quickly – at the cost of losing one of the city’s most valuable assets. 

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