Auckland ratepayers to miss out on at least $100 million after much-touted Ports of Auckland cranes go unused

The Ports of Auckland have forked out $60 million for cranes it hasn't been able to use yet. 

The setback comes as the council-owned port announced it will pay at least $100 million less to ratepayers than expected. 

The three new cranes were touted as a new dawn for the port. 

They arrived with much fanfare, sold to the public and the council - which owns the port - as a must-have to future-proof one of the city's most valuable assets. 

But since they were shipped in from China last October they have only been used for testing, and they won't be up and running until February next year at the earliest - 16 months after they arrived. 

"They're not operating, they're not being productive, they're not doing their job as we expected, it's a significant outlay - $60 million," says Chris Darby, chair of Auckland Council's planning committee.  

Each crane weighs more than 2000 tonnes, and there was speculation they were just too heavy.

The cranes, which can be remotely operated, are part of the plan to fully automate the port. 

Matt Ball, of Ports of Auckland, says the delay is actually down to making sure things happen in the right order.

"We're doing some pretty complex things here - we're the first port in New Zealand to be able to quad-lift four containers at once," he says.  

But the huge investment means the council is set to miss out on millions of dollars. 

Last year the port's dividend to the council was $51 million. Next year it's down to only $8.7 million, followed by an expected $9.4 million in 2021. 

The port is forecasting it will bounce back in 2022. 

But it means the city will miss out on at least $100 million, and possibly much more. 

"There's a dramatic reduction in the dividend that's paid to Auckland Council," says Darby. "There is concern and we've expressed concern."

And the Maritime Union of New Zealand points to Australian ports that have been automated and say it's taken much longer than two years for them to get back into the black. 

"It's taken at least 10 years to start to come right, so for the Port of Auckland to do it in two years would be an extraordinary result I would say," the union's Russell Mayn says.

The port says it's already at capacity and has to spend now in order to pay dividends in the future. 

"We made a commitment to Aucklanders that we would end reclamation, and as part of that we have to make more intensive use of the land we've got," says Ball.  

But some though wonder why any money at all is being spent on a port that most acknowledge will be moved at some point in the future. 



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