There is increasing discussion about the moving the Ports of Auckland to Northland with the latest report on it being shared with cabinet ministers.
Cabinet ministers now have a copy of a report urging the government to move the Auckland port up north, but say no final decisions have been made.
A feasibility study on creating “Northport” was commissioned, after New Zealand First struck a coalition deal with Labour.
It would be a huge infrastructure project if it goes ahead, with a price tag of about $10 billion.
There would be roading upgrades, a new 18km rail line to connect Northport to the main trunk line between Auckland and Northland, and a new freight distribution terminal.
A working group has delivered its report, which has found freight operation in Auckland is “no longer viable”, economically or environmentally, and recommends Northport go ahead.
This report follows an interim report released last month on the issue and looked at five options for shifting the port which are full or partial moves to Northport or Tauranga as well as to both of them.
The economic case for a full move to Northport was favoured over the other options based on this BCR relative to the base case of leaving the port where it is.
Of course this isn’t the first time there’s been a report looking at moving the port with the last one happening in just 2016 – the Port Future Study. That report recommended further investigation into options at sites in the Firth of Thames and the Manukau Harbour. As part of that investigation it looked a large number of sites including Northport but discounted it, saying:
Long term demand growth is likely to exceed the expected capacity growth available at the Port of Tauranga and at Northport
It is interesting that these two reports so close together could come out with such different outcomes.
There is going to be plenty of debate in many spheres about the port and I suspect there’s still a lot of water to go under the bridge as to whether it moves or not. For one thing, $10 billion as suggested is needed to implement it, is a huge amount of money and such a move is likely a multi-decade investment so would likely need cross-party support.
So with this post I wanted to consider some of the more Auckland centric opportunities
The Auckland Council own the Ports and get dividends from it but that dividend can be highly variable. Last year it was $51.1 million but that is projected to be just $8.7m in 2020 and $9.4m in 2021 before jumping up to $64.3m in 2022.
The current study suggests the following with under the full move the ports still having an income from cruise ships and their other holdings. But it suggests that the council could be able to collect more rates as well as leasehold income from the freed up land which would see it get better overall returns.
The challenge is that is a significant proportion of land, making up 18% of all the land in the central city and so developing it is that proverbial “how do you eat an elephant” question. The issue is that it would take quite some time for development to come on stream and there would need to be significant capital outlays to enable it so in the interim that is money the council would needs to make up from other sources.
For an example of size, Wynyard Quarter from Fanshawe St to the tip of Tank Farm is less than half the size of the remaining port land and has been under construction for a decade with still lots to go. There was also many years of planning before that. Presumably it would be more of a managed withdrawal though which might help negate the impacts a little bit.
If the port did move we can likely expect similar outcomes to what we’re seeing with Wynyard Quarter and the image below shows a potential outcome from a masterplan the study has undertaken. It includes declaiming some of the land and accommodating.
- 20,150 more hotel rooms
- 58,000 households
- 75,850 jobs
- more retail, entertainment and cultural areas
Note: these numbers seem way too high given the development we’re seeing at Wynyard.
If we’re going to be developing all of this land, we’re probably going to also want a new train station on the Eastern Line somewhere around The Strand.
Of course this isn’t the only part of the central city that could be opened up for development with right next door, Quay Park and up Grafton Gully also being proposed in the City Centre Masterplan. Which leads us to …
Grafton Gully opportunities
As we’ve talked about before, one of the major new additions to the City Centre Masterplan refresh is looking at Grafton Gully with a proposal for a multiway boulevard and a decent part of that is about accommodating trucks getting to and from the port. However it also opens up an additional 26 hectares of potential development space. If the port was to move that may allow us to implement that project differently.
The Transport Networks
With the port gone the Eastern Line at least would largely just become used by just metro and intercity services but there could be some major implications for the Western Line.
Currently there are only a few services a day on the Western Line but that will likely change in the future with the government already investing with Kiwirail to upgrade some tracks between Auckland and Northland. But the thing to think about is that after the CRL opens in 2024, the western and southern lines are likely to be too busy with metro services to have capacity. As such the report talks about an inland port in the Northwest from which these freight services would either need to travel through Auckland at night or we’d need a 3rd main on the Western Line too – although quite how you’d get that through New Lynn a challenge.
Just sending the trains through at night is the most likely scenario as that avoids the need for need for additional infrastructure. However if we did manage to build a 3rd main though West Auckland, which is unlikely to be very cheap, then it could also potentially see the building of the Avondale Southdown line – although given the development that has occurred nearby the line since it was originally proposed I suspect it could end up being challenged by nearby owners. Perhaps instead we’ll end up needing something like Patrick suggested in this post.
There are also questions about what impact the upgrading of the lines have on the ability to provide services west of Swanson. Perhaps once we get Hamilton services up and running we might see calls for intercity services to Whangarei too but I’m still not sure we’ll see regular commuter services as the issue remains that the rail line travels out of the way.
In some ways the push for using Northport by some also feels like a bit of a Trojan horse to getting an otherwise unjustifiable motorway extension over the line. While the goal is to get most of the port business on to rail, it would still see large numbers of trucks plying SH1 towards Auckland. I wonder what impact that will have once they hit the congestion in the city and if that increases calls for other projects like an additional harbour crossing.
As mentioned it still feels like there’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge but one aspect that is concerning is that Auckland seems to be largely being left out of the discussion. Before any decisions are made it feels like a lot more work needs to happen to understand the impacts and collaboratively come up with a solution.