Last week we had yet another port report and another new preferred location. This is the second port study in just eight months and the third in four years, although report this is more inline with the report from four years ago. It also goes to further strengthen the suggestion that the last study, a requirement of the NZ First coalition agreement, started with Northport as the preferred outcome and worked back from there. Here’s the press release.
The Government has released a major new report on the options for relocating the Port of Auckland’s freight operations while deferring any decision on the issue.
“That decision needs to be informed by policy analysis that is still to be completed. As a result it will be up to a future government to determine a preferred location,” say Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Associate Transport Minister Shane Jones.
Phil Twyford says this issue has significant fiscal, economic, social and environmental implications. “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.”
The new report by economic consultancy Sapere was commissioned by officials to inform that policy work. It considers five relocation options: Northport, Manukau, the Firth of Thames, the Port of Tauranga and a shared increase in capacity at both Northport and the Port of Tauranga.
Its key findings include:
- 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
- The economic costs would outweigh the economic benefits for all the options, including Manukau.
For this new study they say they’ve looking at options to provide capacity for a 60-year period, out to 2079. That makes sense as it’s going to take at least 10-20 years to make a decision, get consents and then build something.
To start with they’ve looked at the base case for accommodating the predicted growth in the freight task at the existing port site. They say this image is not necessarily what would happen but gives an indication of the scale of reclamation that would be needed to accommodate it.
The potential options.
As with previous suggestions, this would see a major expansion of Northport. However, this report says:
Northport could provide sufficient berth capacity until around 2060, which is not materially longer than the estimated 30-year capacity at POAL. To accommodate the freight task for the minimum test of 60 years, marine and coastal engineers conclude that Northport would need a 2km long quay, involving dredging and reclamation that expands beyond identified constraints to the west (residents, wetlands) and to the east (into Refining NZ’s liquids berths and well beyond) with significant impacts on coastal processes affecting the nearby coastline and channel.
They also note there would be a need to bring forward plans to extend the motorway from Warkworth to Marsden Point which includes the $2 billion Warkworth to Te Hana section and a complete bypass of the Brynderwyns. It also requires a third track on the western line all the way from Swanson to Avondale, which given the corridor is already constrained, is likely to be very expensive.
Tauranga has issues too.
The Port of Tauranga would need significant expansion, into industrial areas on each side of the estuary channel, to accommodate its own long-term freight task and that of POAL. The necessary addition of berths and container facilities to the south and east would impact on flight paths and the airport runway, bridge marina and highway would need to be relocated. Marine and coastal engineers advise that tidal currents mean the increased shipping activity would be challenging, with a risk of congestion affecting vessel operations and limiting port capacity. Even if this long-term capacity can be realised, Tauranga would have few remaining options, other than expanding to the west of Sulphur Point, into the public reserve and marina
It’s not mentioned but this would appear to also require a new Harbour Bridge. They do say it would need improvements to SH1/SH29 between Cambridge and Tauranga, additional passing loops on the East Coast Main Trunk (the Kaimai tunnel would not be a constraint), improvements (presumably double tracking) at Whangamarino as well as a fourth main from Westfield to Pukekohe. Though to be fair, some of that is needed now anyway to also support metro and intercity services too and we should be building the fourth main at the same time as the third goes in.
There is a suggestion of slightly smaller expansions at both Northport and Port of Tauranga with the freight task shared between them. There is a concern that in 60 years both ports are likely to be full and then have limited expansion options. There is also a “significant risk market forces would direct freight such that capacity at one or other port may be constrained by the limits described above at an earlier date”.
Firth of Thames
The Firth of Thames was one of the favourites in the 2016 study and if chosen would see a new port built likely offshore and linked back to land by a bridge. The focus of the image is on Kawakawa Bay as it is representative of the costs that would be incurred but the actual location could be elsewhere.
For transport they say
A new road connection would be needed, likely a four-lane road from the Mill Road area with a bypass of Clevedon, with an improved connection from Mill Road to the Southern Motorway. A new rail line, connecting from the North Island Main Trunk, would traverse some complex topography near Kawakawa Bay that would require some high-cost tunnelling.
The Manukau Harbour option is favoured because it’s the closest to the existing industrial areas where most of the freight would be going, therefore resulting in lower overall transport costs. As the map below shows, there are three potential sites that would all need to be connected back to the land via a bridge. They say the Puhinui site is the focus for their study as it is likely to have lower construction costs due to being closer to land.
Of course the biggest thing people bring up about Manukau is getting in the harbour in the first place. They say that in the view of port planners, dredging is feasible and access wouldn’t be a problem with modern ships and tugboats if necessary.
For access it would need a new arterial road which would effectively extend Wiri Station Rd westwards and some motorway interchange upgrades. It would also need a connection to the rail network – though I imagine this would more likely be along a similar alignment to the road than what is shown above.
Costs and benefits
The costs of each option vary quite a bit and are shown below. The difference between the two is due to different growth assumptions with government officials assuming a lower rate of growth and therefore a lower level of new capacity is needed.
But the picture changes once operational costs get considered and this is where the Manukau site really shines.
As mentioned in the press release, none of these stack up economically though. Manuaku does the best here returning 44 cents for every dollar spentOther Stuff
A few other interesting takes from the report.
Our technical professions continue to let us down when it comes to transport modelling. The report includes a section on the city centre transport impacts from shifting the port. It considers higher and lower intensity redevelopment options and says that either option will result in slower traffic speeds through the city.
The results of these forecast flows associated with the POAL site have been assessed in the Auckland City Centre SATURN model. This model has a furthest horizon year of 2036, so this year has been used for the assessment. The ATAP assumption, that the grade separation of intersections along Grafton Gully (at The Strand and Alten Road) would occur has been included in the model.
Table 22 below summarises the average travel speeds in the Auckland City Centre under two redevelopment scenarios for the year 2036. By this year the general increase in CBD traffic will reduce average travel speeds between 18 to 27 per cent. In the event the site is redeveloped, increased congestion will further reduce CBD travel speeds. The key finding is that average travel speeds in the Auckland City Centre are likely to be lower under the higher intensity redevelopment scenario by 7 to 12 per cent than what would otherwise occur in 2036 under the base case.
The above speeds relate to the averages within the entire model, so the results may under-represent the extent of congestion in particular areas. However, the model outputs indicate the extent to which the higher intensity redevelopment scenario will lead to lower vehicle speeds in the city centre
This kind of modelling, where it appears they’ve just extrapolated existing conditions, really lets us down. It clearly hasn’t taken existing trends into account, such as that over the last 20 or so years, traffic to the city in the AM peak has actually reduced slightly and the significant growth in jobs, education and entertainment have been accommodated primarily through the increased use of public transport. There’s no reason to assume a new development on port land wouldn’t be the same – and given issues such as climate change, the area would need to be designed to have low access by car and a focus on PT as well as walking and cycling.
Where speed is needed though is for our traffic engineering professions to hurry and and get with the programme. Getting cars through the city as fast as possible is not the aim of the city and the council have been talking about ideas like Access for Everyone which focuses on people, not pushing cars though the city. And if traffic speeds are much lower, perhaps then people won’t drive and will change how they travel.
Finally, there’s this interesting table looking at why the outcomes of this study are different to the last one.