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A new report ranks Manukau Harbour as the best option for relocating Ports of Auckland, but the decision will be up to a future government – Photo courtesy of Ports of Auckland

New report on Auckland port relocation

A report by independent consultants Sapere on the options for relocating Ports of Auckland’s freight operations has been released by the Government, but any decision on the issue has been deferred.

In December 2019, Cabinet considered the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy independent working group’s final report. At that time, Cabinet noted that Ports of Auckland was not viable as the upper North Island’s key import port over the long term and tasked officials with undertaking further work on the issue. 

The new report by economic consultancy Sapere was commissioned by officials from the Ministry of Transport, the Treasury and the Provincial Development Unit within MBIE, to inform that policy work. It considers five relocation options: Northport, Manukau Harbour, the Firth of Thames, the Port of Tauranga, and a shared increase in capacity at both Northport and the Port of Tauranga. 

While releasing the report, the Government has deferred any decision, saying it is one that needs to be informed by policy analysis that is still to be completed. “It will be up to a future government to determine a preferred location,” say Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Associate Transport Minister Shane Jones.

Mr Twyford says the issue has significant fiscal, economic, social and environmental implications, but because officials have been focused on Covid-19 response and recovery work, they have not yet been able to provide advice on Sapere’s assessment of the benefits, costs, risks and uncertainties associated with the options.

Key findings

The key findings of the report are that the port’s current downtown Auckland location has about 30 years’ capacity and there is a 10–15 year window for making a final decision on relocation. For all five options, engineering and consenting could be difficult.

Manukau Harbour was the highest ranked option, although consenting could be problematic, and the report says the economic costs would outweigh the economic benefits for all the options, including Manukau.

Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson has welcomed the new report. “As an island nation, New Zealand relies almost entirely on ports to meet our trade needs. Decisions on where ports are located are therefore very important for our future wellbeing, and this is especially so for the location of the port which serves our largest city.

“We are heartened to find that this report has drawn on the knowledge of a wide range of people with deep expertise in port planning, transport and the supply chain. This is as it should be,” he says. “The conclusions of the report are no surprise to us. They are in line with the conclusions of all but one of the many reports on this topic that have been commissioned over the last decade.

“Ultimately, a decision of this magnitude is one for our owner Auckland Council and future governments. We look forward to supporting this work as and when needed.”

Council concerns

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has also welcomed the Sapere report as it “completely backs up my concerns, and concerns raised by Auckland Council, since the start of the upper North Island port study,” he says. “This new report now forms the basis for an evidence-based, independent process that can ensure we can move the Ports of Auckland from the prime waterfront space it is currently occupying.

“It is my firm expectation that, following the election, the new government will immediately start work on a facts-based options analysis of the Manukau Harbour or Firth of Thames. They must properly engage with stakeholders, in particular Aucklanders and Auckland Council.”

Auckland Business Chamber says it is encouraged by the Sapere report. “Rather than dredging up the same old ‘business as usual’ thinking and selective analysis to fit a predetermined conclusion to locate the port anywhere but Auckland, the forward-thinking Sapere report looks at sunrise options with a 60-year horizon, not 30-year sunset locations like Northport, Tauranga and Auckland’s waterfront,” says chamber CEO Michael Barnett. 

“Both the Manukau Harbour and a man-made Firth of Thames island with interconnecting distribution and transport hubs, and capability to expand and grow to cope with larger ships and container volumes, are options that must be explored further.

“We now have the opportunity to identify what our trading needs are and commit to a modern port facility that uses the best technology and construction methodology available, is properly funded, designed to support sustainable growth, and meets social, cultural and environmental obligations to stakeholders,” he says.

Distance to market

Road Transport Forum CEO Nick Leggett says the Sapere report provides time for decision-makers to take a breath. “I fail to see why there is the perceived need to rush into moving Ports of Auckland, or the rush to pick a favourite to replace it,” he says.

Calling the Sapere report “sensible and measured”, Mr Leggett says the RTF has spoken out against moving the port to Northport on many occasions because of the cost it would add to moving freight further away from its end destination. “That’s before you even get into logistics and environmental impacts,” he adds. 

“As a country facing severe economic hardship in the wake of Covid-19, the Government cannot afford to spend money on poorly thought-out projects that don’t stack up on costs versus benefits. It is clear that distance to market is critical to the supply chain and that Northport is generally considered too far from main markets to function as a primary import port. 

“The country needs to look at how it can best manage the flow of exports and imports that are the mainstay of our economy. The Sapere report suggests we have a good 30 years to tackle capacity issues for Ports of Auckland.”

Sapere’s UNISCS report can be downloaded from the Ministry of Transport’s website: www.transport.govt.nz/multi-modal/keystrategiesandplans/upper-north-island-supply-chain-strategy/


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