The future of Auckland’s port has been in the news quite a bit lately.
Last week the port released a 30-year masterplan, although given what’s in it, it feels more like a 10-year plan. It’s all part of a push to claim that they’re a reformed organisation, no longer intent on pushing further out into the harbour and working towards creating a land-bridge to Devonport.
Much of the plan seems to be focused on tweaks and changes to improve container operations. This includes finishing off Fergusson Wharf, moving their head office, and automating the container terminal and rail grid. But it’s the non-container plans that look to cause the most concern.
One key project in the plan is targeted at addressing one of the biggest public sore points with the port. That some of the most valuable land in the country is used for a giant carpark. So much so that almost every ounce of space on the western side of the port now appears to be dedicated to the storage of vehicles. This is shown in the satellite image below.
To address this, the port propose to build a huge multi-storey carpark
A hotel is proposed on the Quay Street frontage of Bledisloe Wharf to add city-life to the edge of the port precinct, although it might also house a technology centre.
That building would link to a 1ha park on top of a five-level 2600-space car park building, to help accommodate the flow of light vehicle imports through Bledisloe Wharf.
Part of the problem is that this carpark doesn’t actually appear to be about using port space more efficiently. Instead it’s just about increasing the overall capacity. As the image below shows, it appears the rest of Bledisloe Wharf will still be dedicated to the storage of vehicles.
As for the proposed hotel, how quintessentially Auckland to build a ‘waterfront’ hotel that doesn’t have a view of the water. What’s more, one flanked by carparks on either side. On the North by the proposed carpark and to the south it faces Quay St and the Britomart Carpark. This isn’t to mention the absurdity of having a large, tree filled park on the roof. Who would actually use that, especially if only accessed by passing through that hotel.
I’ll come back to the issue of handling cars shortly.
Also recently in the news has been New Zealand First’s discussion of moving it’s operations to Northport. As part of their coalition agreement, Labour have agreed to investigate it. They also agreed to a $1 billion annual Regional Development Fund which includes “Significant investment in regional rail”. A decent portion of that funding will be used to build the already consented rail link to Northport and to upgrade the existing rail line between Auckland and Whangarei.
To me, it doesn’t seem practical for us to completely shift all of Ports of Auckland operations up to Whangarei. There are a few reasons for that and one of the biggest is the impact of shifting even a significant portion of that by rail to and from Auckland. As we’ve seen from Port of Tauranga’s Metroport operations, it would require trains regularly passing through Auckland throughout the day. With the City Rail Link significantly increasing passenger services, slotting freight trains in will be very difficult. Even the long-proposed Avondale-Southdown Line won’t help as the freight trains would still have to mix between Swanson and Avondale.
However, while moving all port operations to Whangarei seems impractical, perhaps moving a specific part of the port there could work, the cars. Northport has plenty of flat land near the port that could be used to store vehicles while they are processed. Combine that with a fleet of car carrying rail wagons for the upgraded lines and cars could be railed to Auckland. They could pass through the urban area at night to avoid conflict with passenger services. Even adding an extra $100 or so to cover the cost of transport those cars, it is minor compared to the cost of buying a new car.
An option like this would have many benefits. It would allow the Ports of Auckland to focus their efforts on improving how they handle containers. At the same time also freeing up a lot of their land closest to the city centre. A solution that might be able to keep everyone happy. What’s not to like?