I’ve always loved a working port, growing up on Tintin, where intrigue and big issues always led our hero to docks, and [sadly] being old enough to just remember Auckland’s finger wharves busy with cranes and the last of the goods trains still running on Quay St, I’m a sucker for the romance and tough rough-neck image of it all. Which of course has always been grounded in the realities of the physical movement of goods, and at ports these realities seem more laid bare than most anywhere else; an example of the laws of physics meeting human desire = economics.

So what’s going on down on the wharves? For quite a long time it’s felt very unsatisfactory. The Council, who in our stead owns 100% of the port company, is of course also the regulatory authority over its operations as it is over all businesses and residents in the Auckland Region. Unfortunately this combination doesn’t seem to be working at all well.

It seems clear that the current management of the port company has little interest in any responsibilities beyond direct port operations despite that these being very real; they seem to treat the city’s desire meaningful cohabition with the working port as something to be gamed. This narrow idea of social and environmental responsibility is unlike many privately owned companies, let alone publicly owned ones. But there also appears to have been an almost total abrogation of governance by the Council over port decisions.  Sometimes it seems more like the port company is playing both the people and Council and other times it looks more like collusion between parts of the Council ad the company. I, like almost everyone else in the city has no idea what is really going on. This is my biggest complaint here, there is little daylight or transparency about what is going on down on the waterfront, and a huge amount of spin coming from PoAL.

The latest is the sneaky slip of a resource consent through the Council on December 23rd for two extensions to Bledisloe Wharf without any public discussion initiated by either party. It is clear that the port intends these extensions as a prelude to filing in the resultant space between the piers at a later date, but even without this it’s worth seeing what they are doing to our harbour. Specifically I am interested in the outcome for Queens Wharf. The space that we [Council and government] bought for $40million from ourselves [Port Company] in 2009 specifically as a public space, the ‘people’s wharf’. Here’s how Waterfront Auckland describe it, in the first words on their dedicated Queens Wharf page:

Queens Wharf lies at the foot of the Auckland CBD and offers a unique vantage point overlooking the sparkling Waitemata Harbour… Queens Wharf has been transformed from a private working wharf to a public waterfront space for all to enjoy.

This is a big investment in an important idea: allowing people to bust through the red fence enabling the north south axis of Queen St to continue out into our wonderful harbour forming an intersection with this eastern city edge, and penetrating into the harbour to reconnect this harbourside city with its deep water. Expressly in fact to cement Queens Wharf as a ceremonial space of symbolic arrival and departure. After all, we or our ancestors have all come to this city from over the sea. Here’s how WA put it:

The wharf has social significance for its central role on the Auckland waterfront; for its function as a major place of arrival to, and departure from New Zealand; and as a place of formal welcome and farewell.

Here then is an introduction to PoAL’s plans [and style; a very don’t worry nothing to see here kind of document]:

PoAL expansion Plans

This shows a plan to extend Bledisloe Wharf [on the left],

So what does it matter what happens east of Queens Wharf in the operational zone of the port? We want to have a successful port don’t we, and that’s going to take space, right? Agreed. Which is why we have invested in Fergusson Wharf, the big and modern container wharf at the eastern edge of the ports operations area. But since the decline of New Zealand’s vehicle assembly industry and the rise of car imports PoAL have used the old finger wharves for temporary car storage. A very Auckland and very space hungry activity. But would we allow Wilsons, say, to use this land for car parking? We need to have an honest and open discussion about the trade-offs involved in this use, as there are other options like [but not limited to]:

  • not importing so many vehicles through Auckland [some through Tauranga- an actual national ports strategy]
  • incentivising shippers to space out deliveries so the peak arrivals are smoothed
  • storing them more space-efficiently on the existing land [a parking building rather than reclaimation]

A key thing that is very easy to miss in the image above is the two light grey fingers either side of the dark grey pointed out ‘Proposed reclamation’ that we don’t ‘need to decide on right now’. This is what that December consent about is and is to begin construction next month. What do these two extension mean for Queens Wharf? Here’s a schematic of the sightline from the end of Queens Wharf:

Bledisloe Wharf extensions_6

The new wharves will clearly cut Queens Wharf off from any view of the Harbour entrance, that point of ‘arrival to and departure from’. Queens Wharf will no longer be out in the harbour but just in a contained little ferry basin. Just a big concrete deck leading nowhere. Below is its current state. As I took this picture a car carrier was docked at the existing Bledisloe wharf disgorging its contents:


Working from the visual above, and doing a bit of very quick photoshop here’s what I reckon, roughly, will happen to the experience on the end of the People’s Wharf’ when a ship is docked at the new western pier extension on Bledisloe. Forgive my crude Photoshopery, it’s intended to be approximate rather than perfect, I did adjust the ship extension for perspective, making the stern smaller and have invented a new shipping line with an appropriate name…


Is this really the outcome we want in order to accommodate the peak flow of car imports through one port? Currently 90% of the entire county’s car imports arrive through Auckland. If this is the cost of that continuing, is it one are prepared to pay?

A further example of the lack of any coordination between the ambitions for our city and the plans of the frankly visionless port company or it’s governors is shown by the contradictions between the plans for a major artwork based on the idea of arrival and departure at the end of Queens Wharf as described here in the Herald by Brian Rudman:

In the furore over Port of Auckland’s plans to extend Bledisloe Wharf nearly 100m out into the harbour, one of Mayor Len Brown’s pet projects was overlooked.In more ways than one. The controversial Barfoot & Thompson state house lighthouse at the end of Queens Wharf will be blinkered.

In persuading councillors of the need to commandeer the tip of Queens Wharf for the lighthouse, the mayor and council arts panel argued the site was “a key portal into New Zealand for international visitors arriving via vessel” and was “visible from multiple vantage points”.

Mr Parekowhai explained that his work would be “a lighthouse that signals safe harbour and welcome”.

It seems to me that a very Auckland kind of tragedy is unfolding down


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  1. This is really bad. Agree with Geoff above about smarter storage options. This extension is worse for all harbour users, Yachties, Fisherman, Aesthetics for Tourists. Harbour Cruises, see how great City of Sails is? Plus our Focus Point Queens Wharf the absolutely first port of call since Auckland began. Our Roading Network which doesn’t cater for the other modes is again highly to blame here. Operation Network 180 degree, People – can fix full scale with a 10 day lead in and 3 weeks operation converting 4 arterials per evening. Cost only contract scheduled rates for roadmarking, signal modifications, and central median modifications if need be. Can be done fast and cheap and should be done fast and cheap.

    1. Len can now overide NZTA and AT fully under Civil Defense as Network Congestion is clearly affecting emergency services. But these services as well as bus is going to get a dedicated lane wherever possible in the network. Seperated Cycling lane widths 100% arterials, Bus Lane/Emergency Services 95-100%. Pedestrian Amenity maximised and Signals Priority based on Needs of Many vs Needs of Few approach. Ie what is best for People when looking at Carriageway widths and Intersections. Zero Capex Expenditure, This is a Network Maintenance Problem. Let’s see what a Civil Defense Directive Does and a Dedicated Team and Approach as mentioned in Essential Budget next 3 years. Actually redo that now that you oy need physical protection in the 1m space.

    2. If Len authorises NZTA Ops Manager you are now in the team. NW busway hello and also for Emergency Services.

      1. The Cycling Expert, Public Transport Expert, Walking Expert and Transport Blog Rep need to agree on all layouts all main roads – motorways,highways and arterials in Auckland Region. You can have assistance but one rep each and need to agree fully before we put public posting up. This will be full time for 10 days initial headstart and 3 weeks. Seperated Cycling Width allowance will not be negotiable or has most claim to right of way since potential highest mode and likely highest benefits.

        1. Again we are going to need raw measured widths every 20m all main roads. RAMM or Highway Route Chainages spray marked chainages every 20m on left hand side of increasing direction. Start 0m kerb face or Seal Edge LHS running measurement to each existing lane line or median right across to other side. This will be our baseline and setout point for future changes but we need calibrated measuring wheels and spray marks plus chainages. We will need standard measuring sheets and an excel spreadsheet that shows existing layout every 20m and a blank row underneath for new layout under each one. When new layout locked in print these they will be our Roadmarking and Median Modification Setout.

          1. We are going to need aerial plans with Chainage Setout and Running Widths Marked On for Layout Team and afterwards Implementation Team with the final running measurements from the setout point referenced on the excel spreadsheet. Signal Co Ordinator needs to gather all SCATs , Signal Plans all Intersections. With all Maintenance Sectors across AT and NZTA doing the whole main road network divided into Sunday Night to Thursday Night over 3 weeks this will be busy.

  2. It makes me ill thinking that we could lose that view. Why can’t they extend the wharves further east. Why can’t they extend Ferguson wharf into mechanics bay or across to okahu bay. Why can’t they go double story or build new wharves in te atatu or move some car imports to Tauranga. Personally I think the port should expand East, but anything is better than destroying the view of the harbour

    1. It doesn’t need to expand at all – they have plenty of space and just want more space for parking imported cars. Our lame duck Mayor is the only mayor in the world advocating the destruction of valuable harbour space into tarmac for a purpose as low value as car parking. We so badly need leadership and he’s letting us down.

      Speaking of leadership, where is the Minister for Auckland where are Auckland’s MPs? With the current council too weak to resist even its own ports organisation, we need our MPs to stand up and be counted. Maybe even our Auckland-based PM.

      1. Great post Patrick.
        Let’s remember it is people who make decisions and people can reverse decisions just as AT recently showed with respect to the Pohututukawa6 so let’s have a look at who we might be looking to for some better decisions.

        It’s not hard to surmise that PoAL’s Plans required Board approval given the amount of Capital Expenditure involved. You can look at the list of the seven Board of POAL here on their own website.
        Firstly, there is one women which is better than a lot of NZ Boards and while I do not mean to cast nasturtiums on their notable careers there are some common themes that would make them prime candidates for the leadership of a Port Company with a myopic focus on its own infrastructure;
        * Four have or have had strong associations with the Export sector especially Agriculture & Alcohol.
        * Three are or have been associated with private & publically owned freight companies.
        * Two have or have had associations with construction and development companies.
        * Two have or have had associations with iwi interests.
        * None list associations with the car industry although a dig into their other directorships might find them.
        * None lists themselves as being a Auckland Council Appointee or demonstrates a significant career in supported broader, non-commercial, public interests.

        Ports of Auckland Limited has one shareholder in Auckland Council Investments Limited and while POAL don’t have much to say about their activities publically, ACIL have a section in the Auckland Council website dedicated to ACIL alone. It includes links to its Board meeting minutes written in the usual arcane non-speak of Board minutes “noting this” and “receiving that”, then going into closed session.
        There are five board members which I think is light for an organisation with $2.5Bn in a bunch of assets they themselves call “Diversified”. In the complete opposite to POAL the majority of this Board is women, many of the Board have broad non-commercial interests and although the alcohol industry pops up again no-one professes expertise in freight, exporting, land management, planning or development. I think this is the real issue. ACIL’s largest asset is Auckland Airport which has a heap of looming planning and consent issues as does ACIL’s second largest asset; POAL. The bios of the Directors of ACIL do not give me the confidence that they have the experience to navigate these issues or possibly even build effective relationships and set the direction for a bunch of blokes interested in ships and ‘reclamation’.

        So Patrick, you have clearly highlighted an issue with the direction POAL wants to navigate, though I think the real issue lies further up the chain and until Len and his Council show a willingness to get involved and provide direction issues like the one you highlight will continue to blindside us all.

        Meanwhile some other total plonker in Len’s organisation thinks it’s OK to cut down a 500yr old Kauri tree.
        The Americans talk about a Lame Duck President, I think we’ve got a lame pukeko mayor.

        1. Well that’s the point Mr Plod – lack of leadership from the mayor. Auckland Council owns 100% of Ports of Auckland and can put an immediate stop to this destruction through a Board directive. Looks like the blocked harbour view will be Brown’s only legacy once he goes.

    2. I think ill regarding the placing of a “State House” (lighthouse) on the existing wharf calling it sculpture. It needs to Public space.

      1. And what helps make a public space public rather than just empty? Public artworks, and this is a good one in the right place, it’s just that the port’s actions will undermine its meaning and therefore value.

  3. I am going to post the section of rules from the Unitary Plan the Port must comply with from next year for any reclamation into the Harbour. The Unitary Plan supersedes the Legacy Rules that currently govern port activities.

    The Rule around Port Reclamation post 2016
    The Port has agreed to hold off any port reclamation (different from building piled wharves) until the Unitary Plan is in operation late next year.

    When it is these are the specific tests the Port must pass:

    Specifically this:
    The policies are as listed in the General Coastal Marine zone for the CMA in the precinct in addition to those specified below.
    The general policies 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11 for the centres and mixed use zones and the General Business and Business Park zone apply to land within the precinct in addition to those specified below.
    The City Centre zone policies 5 – 9, 11, 16 – 17, 19, 21 and – 23 apply to land within the precinct in addition to those specified below.10. Provide for further reclamation to be undertaken, only if:
    a. there is no practicable alternative
    b. it will provide a significant regional benefit
    c. it is the most appropriate form of development
    d. potential adverse effects will be avoided, remedied or mitigated.
    11. Provide for minor reclamation that is carried out as part of rehabilitation or remedial works of an existing reclamation or CMA structure, while avoiding, remedying or mitigating any adverse effects on the environment.


    To be very clear: Rule 10 (and 11) is the Governing Tool that would manage port operations in regards to reclamation. Furthermore:

    think B and D are quite stringent there.
    Also you sure your are not using the Port issue as a lightning rod over the QEII issue? Some say you are despite the sale of that piece of land not able until Road Stopping is complete by AT and that needs a full public notification first. Anyhow QEII Square moves 50metre south-east to outside the Britomart Entrance where the buses currently are (and will be moved). That space alone gets good light and you can see up Queen Street valley and onto Queens Wharf.

    Back to POAL, the reclamation rules are now to be before the Unitary Plan Panel. What you are being express with the truth here Chris is how the UP Panel process work and how Judge Kirkpatrick can very easily put the reclamation rules back to Non Complying if the material stacks up. That said he could have knocked it also from Non Complying back to Discretionary as well.

    Halting all port work is also illegal under the RMA as it not a prohibited activity. So I dear someone to try it in the Enviro Court and find out how that goes.

    finally looking at the voting split it became rather obvious:
    The Affluent Isthmus and North Shore vs the less affluent West and South Auckland, Cr Krum’s area housing heavy industry, and Rodney.

    Time for that Isthmus and North Shore lot to stand back while the UP is under deliberation. Also this is now a matter between Krum’s Ward and Southern Auckland where the industry housed is that is connected to the port. If we are going to alter operations through environmental concerns if is for those people to decide seeming their Economic situation is on the line. And I am talking $380m and 3,500 jobs in the South connected to the port through just General Cargo alone. $280m of that is in wages paid (Cruise Industry only gives $160m).

    As for relocating the port? If within Auckland the RMA itself would prohibit it without Central Government involvement…/port-of-auckland-relocation-and-the…/

    Full post I wrote on the situation:

    In short?

    Judge Kirkpatrick and the rest of the Unitary Plan Panel using the RMA will consider both the economic and environmental concerns of Port Reclamation through what recommendations they set to the Unitary Plan. As I have noted above the Panel could strengthen the rules if they believe Environmental concerns are not being met. In the same regard the panel could loosen the rules if they find them to stringent such as they did with the Rural Urban Boundary just recently.

    The ultimate way to test this is to put a consent for reclamation through Rule 10 and see what fires out the other side. Sure it is high-risk Texas Holdem stuff but it might be the only way to settle this issue once for all.

    Oh and Hamish Keith if you are reading this, going on a vendetta against the South, West and Rodney Councillors that were the 12 that voted to hold the course on the position to be taken into the Unitary Plan Hearings is one sure fire way to have those sections of Auckland rally against you quickly – VERY quickly. We are not stupid and will in our minds balance the environmental concerns against the economic concerns THEN tell our elected representatives what we feel. Like Darby – dont meddle!

    1. Ben, the problem with holding back is that POA will not. Ports of Auckland would have you believe that covering our harbour with tarmac using piles is materially different from doing the same by reclamation. It is not – both are about destroying Auckland’s natural environment so that imported cars can sit there cheaply. It’s low value gained at a very high cost.

  4. I think the time has come for us to move the port to another site. This could be done over a a number of years thus building capacity of the ports as required. While it would be expensive (I read earlier on this blog that it would be around $4b) Ports of Auckland could sell the downtown land off-setting some of the cost. In addition, the new port would be a lot more efficient thus saving money over the medium to long term. If the right site is chosen then the Ports could expand as required without affecting our great harbour.

  5. Sorry crew, I’m not bothered. A ship will block the view but the wharf itself will not, being low enough to look over it when vacant. I am also a strong devotee of ports and consider them to be essential infrastructure. More and more goods are going to be moved by water and NZ has to keep up. I also believe that our motorway system should in the first instance be designed to accommodate freight movement to and from the port. Let other users take a back seat to that.

    As to the current location of the port, I believe moving it, as so many have suggested, is folly. A thought experiment: Say Auckland did not have a port and someone came along and offered to give us one, as long as it is located where the current one is. Who would turn that down? Not me. The facility itself is worth billions, and the freight it handles an awful lot of money, too. (I don’t know the value of imports and exports, but I’m sure it’s on the PoAL website.) That port is an important part of Auckland’s economy. Moving it or blithely saying that someone else can have the business is to ignore all of its benefits to the regional economy. OK, so it’s moving lots of cars. What is wrong with that? They are a high-value good. If the shippers see Auckland as the best place to bring them in, so be it. Let’s grab the port fees and employment. Other options will raise the price of cars.

    The “lighthouse”. I don’t know what this is supposed to look like or be, but I get the general idea. It’s essentially an architectural doo-dad, and an example of piecemeal planning. It may be a great thing but there should be a master plan for Queens Wharf and it should be the location of our Sydney opera house. (Auckland isn’t as likely to think that big, though. Too hard, too much money.) But it should not be the depository of various whims. I strongly support very high design quality, even way off centre design ideas. Everyone agrees that Queen’s Wharf is a valuable asset, so lets not blow it before we start. (I have my own idea for a big iconic structure there, but it’s too big and too hard.)

    BTW, that Fuko carrier is humongous and out of scale. For a ship to take up that space it would have to approach at least 350 metres and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was as much as 400, and no ship that visits PoAL is that big. In fact, we get very few ships bigger than Panamax. I know it’s just an illustration and isn’t intended to be accurate but it’s there to make a point that I believe would not be a problem with a more realistic size ship. The largest car carrier we get is 230 metres.

    1. The ship is not out of scale. I didn’t bother trying to fashion a bow to keep it shorter but that is not the business end of the problem. Any way there is likely to be another ship there too, or else why do we need all this extra dock space, right?

      I do not propose moving the port, but I certainly believe we can have a national ports strategy and sensibly manage temporary peaks of goods arriving or leaving through the three upper norther Island ports to the nation’s national benefit. Competition is can be inefficient.

      ‘seeing over the wharf’ is almost as risible as the port’s assertion that because to start with it will ‘only’ be a piled structure we’ll be able to see under it too.

      This is a plan to reclaim the space better the new piers, see document above, then any number of structures and goods will be added to what is now open air and water.

      We need a port. We need an efficient one, and we especially need an honest, open and creatively managed one.

      If Queens Wharf is no longer properly in the harbour then frankly PoAL owes us our 40million back, or a major portion thereof. It will be by their design no longer what we bought.

          1. I did a quick calculation:
            Le havre 300000 car movements per year in 210 acres
            Auckland 160000 imports per year in 44 (generous) acres. seems actually efficient

          2. Doesn’t look like the land is overly used however the main point was about the use of rail, much like quite a few other ports. Most expansion overseas seems to be based arond rail as per the Port Richmond, CA example.

      1. Before we have a National Ports Strategy we need a Railway of National Importance strategy as both Tauranga and Marsden Point have very limited rail access to Auckland. The Northern Line is a disgrace and should be the subject of major improvements. Perhaps if Winston wins Northland he can get some action on this.

    2. Whats the point of extending it if they not going to use it? The picture is to demonstrate where the ships rear end would be when extension is being used.

    3. 1.If they plan to extend the wharf it’s probably not to keep it vacant.
      2. Motorways for freight only is good for me but they have to pay for it, not me.
      3.if there was not the port there at the moment, noone would build it there because there would be the most expensive real estate in country instead.
      4. The shippers want to externalize as much cost ad they can and I don’t agree with gettin a tumor for them to save money.
      5. Agree on lighthouse.
      6. What difference does it make if it’s one long ship or two short ones?

    4. I have never had any attachment to the idea of the lighthouse. To me it’s always looked like Barfoot and Thompson have decided to foist a quasi-advertisement in a prominent location upon us, and the Council are now having to bend over backwards to accommodate their “gift”, including coughing up for its cost over-runs.

      If they really want to be top civic minded folks, let them donate a chunk of land somewhere nice for their lighthouse to sit on as a public park. I’m sure B&T aren’t hurting for money given the superheated Auckland property market.

      However, notwithstanding above, if its installation gives a reason to prevent POAL from screwing over the harbour, I’ll grit my teeth and call it a bargain at double the price.

  6. Auckland Council, should sell the Port Company, so there is a clear line in the tarmac, who is the regulator and who is the operator, and the operator is treated
    the same as any other company.
    Use the cash to pay for the upgrades to our transport network which become city assets.
    We forget, Auckland Council has access to our rates in perpetuity.
    The Council can buy back into the Port company when we are all using Pubic transport.

  7. What does this mean to tidal flow to the restricted channel?
    Will it have a significant increase to mangrove growth in the upper reaches to the harbour as a result of less flushing?
    Will it increase tidal speed in the significantly throttles channel?
    Have these effects been investigated?

    1. This will hopefully be my fourth year project for university. The research staff are definitely investigating though

    1. De-claim; declamation is the technical term, for buried streams and rivers it’s called ‘daylighting’. I’ve never really understood reclamation as a term, as it practice it’s really ‘filling-in’ not re-claiming something that we used to have.

  8. I believe, in a post a few weeks back, that it was clarified by POA that they do not pay land rates for the (very valuable) land it occupies.

    Hardly seems to encourage efficient use of space, does it?

  9. I am thinking about car container racks. Forty eight foot long and 9 foot 6 inches high. So two decks and maybe three cars per level.Use the port top lifters and straddle carriers to move them from the ship side to a storage area where they could be stacked up five high. You could have ramp so the cars would drive onto the deck via the end of the container rack. When they need to shift them somewhere load them onto a truck or a wagon and away they go. I have just measured my 1993 Corona it would be real tight particularly on height to stay within the 9 foot six. Maybe have to go a wee bit higher. Wouldn’t be a problem for a truck but maybe for rail. Maybe we need some of them small wheeled wagons. We need them anyway for use on the Northland line. I really cant understand why Kiwirail doesn’t get some unless they really don’t want the Northland line.

  10. Shocking to consider that Beach Rd and The Strand were so named because they ran along the foreshore. Now the end of the reclamation extends a kilometre from the mouth of the stream that once fed into the harbour at the foot of Parnell Rise.

    Similar distance from Victoria Park Market to the end of the tank farm.

    POAL continues a long tradition of trashing the harbour.

  11. I pass the port everyday and it hurts to see the most beautiful (and most expensive) part of our city just used for one big car park and when I continue down Beach Road and The Strand the streets are full of container trucks and car transporters – what a waste of resources. I think if POA had to pay a realistic rate for use of the land they would quickly find some alternative use.

  12. WOuld increased wharfage costs clear the wharf quicker? Price it like CBD parking, low cost for the first hour increasing each hour till at hour six the cost is sufficient to ensure 15% of the area is vacant. Then shippers would have an incentive to clear the space within the hour.

    1. This, to me, is central to the issue.

      There was a post a month or so back and the rep from PoA confirmed they pay no land rates (interestingly, Patrick raised this and the rep was not aware). Regardless, if they had to pay a commercial, arms lengths cost of land annually to the council, would the land they have be used more efficiently, such that reclamation of this nature is not required?

      Its easy to go to expansion mode if you only have to pay for outlay and maintenance. There are many people who would love to buy a house with parking for 5 cars but the rates bill (let alone purchase cost) stops them dead.

      I don’t know the finer details but clearly they will never pay rates due to some legislation or policy, which is why I guess it never gets raised.

      1. They didn’t pay rates because it was (a) a Harbour Board and it was not land council could claim any interest in by law (b) Ports argued that because it was reclaimed land the borders of the council “city” stopped at the (old) high water mark.

        Used to be the same for the likes of power poles and phone boxes – they were “public utilities” so were exempt from rates, of course, now those public utilities are anything but, so those power poles and phone boxes need to pay their way.
        Even Auckland Councils own finance people are vague about who pays rates for what and when.

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