'Clear bias': Government accused of ignoring Auckland Council over port move

The Government's approach to shifting Auckland's ports up north has triggered criticism from National and concern from Auckland Council.  

Ports of Auckland is owned by the Auckland Council. It sits on prime waterfront land and for years, many in the city have wanted it gone - but moving it would be a massive undertaking.  

Before the 2017 election, New Zealand First campaigned for the vehicle-import trade to move from Auckland to Northland's port. This led to the coalition Government setting up the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working group. 

The working group is overseen by New Zealand First MP and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, who is in charge of the Provincial Growth Fund, which was granted $3 billion over three years to enhance regional economic development opportunities. 

National's Transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith criticised Mr Jones on Wednesday for "the clear politicisation" of the Provincial Growth Fund and the Auckland ports working group. 

"He has defended the clear bias in funding so far to Northland with the line 'to the victor goes the spoils'," he said, also accusing Mr Jones of "damaging the relationship between Council and Government" by overriding Auckland Council in its port shifting plans. 

"It's clear this is a faulty process because Auckland councillors say they don't trust Shane Jones' working group and worry that they will lose control of one of Auckland's key infrastructure assets," said Mr Goldsmith.  

"A massive amount of work towards developing a long-term plan for the port has already been done, and the working group's willingness to dismiss this work has only fuelled this discontent.

"Mr Jones is damaging the relationship between council and Government."

Mr Jones responded, telling Newshub Mr Goldsmith "doesn’t believe in provincial development", adding that as National's regional development spokesperson, he "never goes, talks or engages with provincial constituencies to any serious extent".

View from the harbour. End of the winter 2016.
Photo credit: Newshub

'Pre-determined' plans


His comments come after Auckland Council on Tuesday approved a letter to be sent to Far North Mayor and chair of the Government working group Wayne Brown ahead of the council's first official meeting with the working group in December.   

The council wants the value of Ports of Auckland, which raked in $51.1 million last year, protected. It also wants a clear evidence-based strategy of how the ports could be shifted north, and what the future holds for the ports in Auckland, Tauranga and Whangarei. 

Mr Goldsmith has echoed Auckland Mayor Phil Goff's concerns that plans to shift the ports to Northland could be "pre-determined" by the working group. But Mr Brown dismissed this, calling the concerns a "storm in a teacup". 

"I'm not quite sure why the mayor of Auckland felt the way he did," Mr Brown told Stuff, after Mr Goff had reportedly expressed concern over the working group not having the time or resources to execute the port shift effectively. 

National MP Judith Collins says it must be "awkward" for the coalition Government to see Auckland Council "squirming as this working group runs its ruler over the council-owned Ports of Auckland without bothering to talk to the council". 

Questions were raised about the future of Ports of Auckland in a 2016 report under former Auckland Mayor Len Brown. It found that Auckland's port won't necessarily outgrow its current site in 50 years, but that options should be identified on where it could be moved to in the future. 

The move would also require a huge upgrade of rail lines between Northland and Auckland, costing more than $500 million. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said last year it would bring jobs back to Northland to revive its struggling economy.

But Ms Collins says moving the ports up north will "result in an extra 19 million kilometres of road transport and $81 million in extra annual costs". She says carbon emissions would "jump by 22,500 tonnes". 

"Labour brought this on itself, because not only did it give New Zealand First billions of dollars of loose cash to spend, but also agreed to a feasibility study to move Ports of Auckland to Whangarei, and a promise to spend some of the $3 billion Provincial Growth fund on regional rail."

Mr Jones says Ms Collins cares "zero about carbon emissions, so that's just political froth". He said the Government is taking a "rational and logical approach to logistical outcomes between the three ports". 

A study on the future of Auckland's port last year found the best place to move it would actually be the Manukau Harbour or the Firth of Thames, at a cost to the council of $4 to $5.5 billion. 

Mr Jones said it's a "stupid idea", because of a sand bar in Auckland’s Manukau Harbour which caused one of New Zealand’s worst shipwrecks in 1863.

"The notion that you could bring super-tankers and the notion that you could bring modern, large freight vessels over that bar is weird."