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Council undeterred by uncertainty in pursuing port future

Auckland Council undeterred by political uncertainty in pursuing port's future

By Paul McBeth

Oct. 10 (BusinessDesk) - Auckland Council's planning committee pressed ahead with plans to scope the next stage for the future of the city's port, shaking off objections the political hot potato might face interference from Wellington.

The committee met today to discuss the next steps in the 2016 consensus working group report into the port's long-term future, which put forward several options to secure the multi-generational viability of the hub, including relocation. The council put off deciding what to do with the report until after last year's local body elections, which installed a new mayor in Phil Goff.

Some committee members today cited the political uncertainty and NZ First leader Winston Peters's bid to shift Auckland's freight service to North Port as a reason for another delay but a proposal by councillor Christine Fletcher to put off the decision until the next committee meeting in a month was narrowly defeated in an eight-nine vote.

The Auckland council committee then backed the resolution to receive the report and direct the chief executive to undertake a scoping process to investigate options for the port, including other alternatives that may come from central government. It also supported an amendment to lobby central government to instigate an upper North Island port strategy, something the Crown has been reluctant to pursue.

"We do need to front this; we do need to start this; the can has been kicked down the road long enough," deputy mayor Bill Cashmore said. "We need to lead and then partner. That's how you work with the Crown - if you wait, you wait forever."

Peters is currently in negotiations with the Labour and National parties to form the next government, setting a deadline for Thursday to make a decision. Among Peters's campaign pledges was relocation of Auckland's container port operations to Northport at Marsden Point by 2027.

Council chief of strategy Jim Quinn, a former Kiwirail chief executive, told the meeting central government will have a role in funding any future relocation because infrastructure such as road and rail connections fall under its umbrella.

"We haven't talked to Wellington in terms of their overt support for this," Quinn said. "I think we know budgets are tight for us and for all, which is why the recommendations are for us to scope the next step."

The future of Auckland's port has been the subject of much debate with industrial operations on the city's waterfront seen as an eyesore by some and a potentially lucrative source of income for the local body, if the land were put to a different use. The consensus working group study looked at a 50-to-100-year timeframe for the port.

The 2016 study put forward several recommendations for the port in the event that demand outstrips its capacity to service the country's biggest city. Still, councillor Mike Lee pointed out at today's meeting the study shows improved efficiency could see the current port cope with a trebling of throughput to 3 million TEUs (20-foot equivalents) per year.

The scoping work signed off today in a 10-seven vote will look to provide indicative costs of any future recommendations and will also take into account what factors might trigger the need for the port to be relocated.

Before the committee discussed the future port study, Shane Vuletich of the Society for the Protection of Auckland Harbours and Julie Stout of Urban Auckland made a submission for the council to include broader factors in triggering a relocation than simply capacity constraints, such as the opportunity cost of the status quo.


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