A push to move port activities in Auckland has been labelled "high risk" by the president of the New Zealand Shipping Federation (NZSF).
Port Future Study, funded by Mayor Len Brown, has identified 12 possibilities for future port locations in Auckland, including the Kaipara Harbour, Whangarei, Muriwai and the Manukau Harbour.
The Independent Chair of the study, Dr Rick Boven, says work has begun on looking for areas in which a port is feasible from a theoretical perspective, but plans are still in the early stages.
Locations are still being analysed for suitability, before a shortlist is created.
"This approach ensures that all possible locations are considered, including those identified in previous studies," says Dr Boven.
Other options are the South-Western coastline, Mahurangi, Upper North Auckland, Waitemata, Tamaki Strait Area, Firth of Thames, Tauranaga and Whakatane.
(Port Future Study)
"Once we test these potential areas against the criteria we may find that some stack up well against future growth projections and infrastructure development plans, and others are simply not suitable because of environmental, social, economic or cultural concerns," says Dr Boven.
However, NZSF president Steve Chapman says options identified on the western seaboard would be "high-risk", and the only real option is to expand Auckland's current port.
"We operated a number of shipping container services out of the port of Onehunga and the Manukau Harbour for the best part of 20 years and that is a high-risk operation."
He says he "cannot see any value in putting infrastructure capital into anything on the western seaboard".
He says the Kaipara and Manukau Harbours are both bound by bars at their entrances and have shallow-depth waters, which could be "problematic for the size of ship coming into New Zealand now".
Swell height, tidal and wind conditions, and maintenance of the bars could make the operation difficult and costly, he says -- including at Muriwai, where he grew up.
"I don't see Muriwai as a port alternative, not in any way, shape or form. It's so exposed out there. You're dictated by swell. I would say it would be very, very costly to operate a port in that environment."
His preferred alternative would be to invest more into the current port and its infrastructure.
"I think the infrastructure of the port certainly needs to be looked at. I would be concentrating hard on rail infrastructure, particularly in Auckland, to take up a lot of that on-port, off-port cartage," he says.
"When I look at off-site ports outside of the Auckland region, I can't help but think of the cost of land bridging those containers to where the consumer is.
"Beefing up existing rail infrastructure and rail -- I really think that is the only alternative coming forward."
A consultant's report will be provided to the working group at the end of April, before consultation with Auckland Council at the end of June.