Decision on Northport move unlikely before election - Shane Jones

By Yvette McCullough for RNZ

Infrastructure Minister and NZ First MP Shane Jones does not expect a decision will be made on moving Auckland port operations north before the election.

In December the Government received a working group report recommending moving Auckland's freight operations to Northland.

However, Cabinet ministers put off the final decision until the first half of this year, so that further analysis could be done - a move that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters criticised as "paralysis by analysis".

Today, Jones said the disruption of COVID-19 had "slowed down the Ministry of Transport bureaucracy".

"Obviously with the limited period of time it's not my view that we'll have any opportunity for the Ministers to make a call before the election."

When asked how disappointing that was, Jones said it was "called politics".

"The Coalition agreement committed Labour to working on a joint report, and to that extent the Coalition agreement has been fulfilled.

"At the end of the day we're in a coalition with Labour and I couldn't get them over the line," he said.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the disruption of COVID-19 made it very difficult for the Ministry of Transport to do the extra work that was asked of them.

He said it wasn't a case of Labour stopping the move getting over the line.

"The Cabinet as a whole took the position the report on the upper North Island supply change study produced didn't answer all the questions, in fact it raised a number of questions, and that's why Cabinet commissioned the extra bit of work", Twyford said.

'Logistically impractical, prohibitively expensive'

The report commissioned by National Road Carriers, released today, said moving Auckland's Port to Northport would be "logistically impractical, prohibitively expensive, increase greenhouse gas emissions and add to traffic congestions".

The report was based on interviews with trucking companies and stakeholders.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett said the report was further evidence that the Northport expansion was unaffordable.

He said that was even more apparent now that New Zealand's economy was reeling from the impacts of COVID-19.

"New Zealand cannot bear the brunt of the huge $10 billion upfront capital cost required to get Northport and its road and rail supply lines up to task, let alone the supply chain disruption and the five-fold increase in road transport costs that will hit the pockets of householders directly," Leggett said.

"All household goods, including groceries, will go up significantly if freight comes into New Zealand some 200km further away from its markets."

Jones dismissed the report, and concerns about the impact of COVID-19, saying he was "not interested in that Auckland snobbery".

"It was always going to be a medium to long-term infrastructure play and it takes a lot of time to organise.

"But people of the North should have every confidence that I will continue to advocate because I believe in greater port activity in Northport and shrinking the size of the carbuncle in downtown Auckland, otherwise known as the Ports of Auckland," he said.

Jones is running in the Northland electorate in the upcoming election.

He said he believed voters would see that New Zealand First had "unstintingly advocated" for Northport within the coalition, and would continue to do so.