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Wanganui District Council and Tupoho to partner in Port

Media release – 18 September 2014

EMBARGOED UNTIL SATURDAY, 20 SEPTEMBER 2014

Wanganui District Council and Tupoho to partner in Port

Change is coming soon to our local port thanks to a joint venture bringing together Tupoho Whanau Trust and the Wanganui District Council.

Whanganui Port Ltd is to become a 50:50 joint venture to operate the commercial activity of the port. It will take over the lease of the wharves and adjacent areas once the Council, using the Harbour Endowment Fund, completes a $1.5 million programme over summer to upgrade the derelict and dangerous facilities.

The Council will effectively continue to be ‘landlord’ of both the wharves area and other leasehold land vested in it by the 1988 Wanganui Harbour Board Act. There will be no change to the status of Harbour Endowment leaseholders and no changes to the rents they pay, outside the regular 21-year review periods.

The Council bought back control of the port and harbour endowment lease from private company River City Port for $2.75 million in September 2010, ending several years of legal wrangling over ownership of the port. Under the new arrangement the Council’s representation on the joint venture port company will be through its Wanganui District Holdings commercial arm.

The venture was announced by Tupoho chair Ken Mair, Holdings company chair Matt Doyle and Holdings board members Mayor Annette Main and Cr Rob Vinsen.

Ms Main said it was a great opportunity to upgrade the port while ensuring it remains in local hands.

“All parties believe there is scope for the port to become commercially sustainable with the right promotion and management. That won’t happen overnight, and it will never be able to compete against New Zealand’s major deep water ports,” she said.

“But there are already several potential sources of cargo into and out of the district that will be able to be shipped within the constraints imposed by the shallow river bar and harbour basin. They’ll be targeted by the port company.”

Mr Mair said negotiations for Tupoho involvement in the port began last year, about the time the new Resource Recovery Centre opened as a partnership between Wanganui District Council, Tupoho and Sustainable Whanganui.

“We saw that as an important step in our desire to work collaboratively with partners and people who share our values,” said Mr Mair.

“It has been a very positive experience and the community has benefited from the development of the new Resource Recovery Centre as a commercial operation.”

In another successful venture the old UCOL campus in Wicksteed Street, now called Tupoho Complex, is now home to a number of community and iwi organisations including the Glass School, AWA FM, Men’s Shed and Te Oranganui Iwi Health.

“We have a very commercial approach to our activities and at the same time we want them to be of value to the community. From the experience we’ve already gained in our relationships, we see the port venture as an exciting opportunity,” said Mr Mair.

“We are taking a commercial approach and we believe it will have tangible long term benefits for both Tupoho and the community through the District Council.”

Wanganui District Holdings Chair Matt Doyle said expenditure on the port venture would not affect the flow of dividends the Council expected to receive from the Holdings company, mainly through its profitable operation of Wanganui Gas Ltd.

“The Harbour Endowment Fund has the ability to fund the Council’s share of the port and there is sufficient asset value to borrow against if needed,” said Mr Doyle.

“We will bring in at least one director and management with relevant experience and the right contacts in the port sector.”

Cr Rob Vinsen, who has been advocating strongly for the port during his time as a councillor and Holdings company director, said it became obvious early on that the ‘glory days’ of coastal shipping were long past and that more capital and more industry knowledge would be vital if the port was to have a future.

While there had been protracted discussions with a New Plymouth based consortium that included Port Taranaki, there had always been some concern that a community interest in the port would become diluted if a deal resulted.

During that time relationships with Tupoho had improved and strengthened, largely through the Whanganui and Partners mayoral initiative, Mr Vinsen said.

“I particularly value the partnership between Tupoho and the Wanganui District Council in establishing the Resource Recovery Centre. Ken [Mair] has been great to deal with and he impresses me with his perception of what is required to improve the future for Iwi. We take a very business-like approach at the Resource Recovery Centre and Ken will bring the same approach to the port.

“Most importantly, through this partnership the district’s commercial port will remain in local hands.”

Cr Vinsen stressed the joint venture was restricted to the commercial operations of the port. The Council would retain responsibility for recreational activities in the river basin and, jointly with Horizons Regional Council, for river management and the moles.

The Council would retain the Harbour Endowment Fund and its properties, and would fund the upgrade work required to get the port facilities to a safe standard before they can be leased to Whanganui Port Ltd.

“This is a very welcome development, both commercially and in terms of our developing relationship with Tupoho. I really can’t imagine a better outcome,” said Cr Vinsen.

ENDS


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