Auckland to Northland: Government set to make port move decision

The Government is set to make a decision over whether to move Auckland's ports up to Northland - a move advocated by New Zealand First. 

The party's leader Winston Peters said in 2017 it would bring jobs back to Northland to revive its struggling economy, saying at the time: "Aucklanders want their harbour back while Northlanders want the jobs."

NZ First campaigned for the ports to move from Auckland to Northland before the 2017 election, which led the coalition Government to set up the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working group, with a focus on moving the ports to Whangarei's Northport. 

It was overseen by NZ First MP and Regional Economic Minister Shane Jones, who is also in charge of the Provincial Growth Fund, and was granted $3 billion over three years to enhance regional economic development opportunities. 

The case for moving Ports of Auckland's business to Northland landed with ministers in an interim report from the working group. And a proposal for upgrading the North Auckland rail line will be given to ministers from the Ministry of Transport. 

In late January geotechnical testing was completed in the coastal area between Oakleigh and Mata Hill by Government-owned KiwiRail in the first stage of investigation into what it would take to build a railway line to Northport. 

The business case is due, and then it'll be decided when building will begin. The work done has shown there's a long way to go, including considerable work on 13 tunnels and some bridges between Whangarei and Auckland.

Ports of Auckland.
Ports of Auckland. Photo credit: File

Auckland's ports are owned by Auckland Council and sit on prime waterfront land, and many in the city want it gone - but moving the ports would be a massive and expensive undertaking: costing approximately $500 million.  

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

Current Auckland Mayor Phil Goff last year expressed concern about plans to shift the ports north, saying it could be "pre-determined" by the Government. 

Auckland Council's concerns were highlighted in a letter sent to Wayne Brown, a former Far North mayor and chair of the working group, ahead of the council's first official meeting with the group in December. 

The council wanted the value of Ports of Auckland, which raked in $51.1 million in 2017, protected. It also wanted an evidence-based strategy of how the ports could be shifted north, and what the future held for the ports of Auckland, Tauranga and Whangarei. 

National MP Judith Collins said relocating the ports to Northland would "result in an extra 19 million kilometres of road transport and $81 million in extra annual costs". 

National's Transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said the Government is not being realistic about what will benefit the regions, and urged reconsideration of National's pledge to build a four-lane motorway between Whangarei and Auckland.

"It is becoming a trend from this Government to forge ahead with coalition agreements in the absence of any real data. These are political decisions and the Government is not being open-minded about what will really benefit the regions." 

A study on the future of Auckland's port in 2017 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. 

But Jones dismissed the idea because of a sand bar in Auckland's Manukau Harbour which caused one of New Zealand's worst shipwrecks in 1863.