Exclusive: 'No point' investing in Northport without building rail link - working group

The Government's been told there is "no point" investing in Northport without a rail connection between it and Auckland.

The Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy Working Group has released the first of three reports investigating the freight network between Northland, Auckland, Waikato and Tauranga.

The working group was asked by the Government to "seriously consider" Northport as an alternative location for the Ports of Auckland, expected to outgrow its current location on the city's waterfront within 25 years.

But the chair, Wayne Brown, told Newshub Nation that rail needs to be top priority if Northport is to grow.

"The Government will have to understand the importance of running a proper rail line through to Northland and just like it did to the Bay of Plenty it could become the North of plenty" he says.

The report says the Bay of Plenty and Waikato have seen significant benefit from Government investment in rail, with 49 percent of the freight passing through the Port of Tauranga on trains.

In Northland just one percent of freight is moved by train, and Northport is served solely by trucks - recording 150,000 truck movements in the year to June 2018.

"The roads in Northland are being hammered by trucks. The best way to get the trucks off the road is on trains," says Brown.

Connecting Northport to the Northland Auckland rail line was a key campaign pledge from New Zealand First at the last election.

"It's a no-brainer, it's impossible to understand how that sort of neglect could have gone on for decades, so pressing on with [the rail link to Northport] we will be," says Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

The Ministry of Transport's business case looking into whether the Northland Auckland line should be upgraded and connected to Northport is due to be released soon.

The next two reports from the working group will take its findings into consideration as it seeks to find a new location for the Ports of Auckland.

However, National's Infrastructure spokesperson Judith Collins is skeptical about moving the port outside Auckland.

"This concept of [the Ports of Auckland] being shifted up to Northland, which is Winston Peters and Shane Jones idea to win a seat, all that does is take around 170,000 jobs that are currently in Auckland, and add enormous cost to freight coming into Auckland as well," she says.

One in three New Zealanders live in Auckland so much of the country's freight is currently imported straight into the largest market.

Collins says it's important that the public has confidence in the advice Governments are given, which is why National supports the development of an Infrastructure Commission.

"Anything that comes out of these working groups and commissions should be something that future Governments can look at and say 'we can use that too'," she says.

Auckland Council's 2016 Port Future Study recommended locations in the Manukau Harbour, at Muriwai and in the Firth of Thames.

The working group leans away from anything on Auckland's West Coast, citing concerns from the marine insurance industry about dangerous conditions.

It found the Firth of Thames more viable, but noted barriers such as large amounts of infrastructure investment and resource consent required.

Possible port locations.
Possible port locations. Photo credit: Newshub.

Brown says the Port of Tauranga has already been taking on some of Auckland's operations, but cautioned that the port had its own constraints.

"It's limited by the single point Kaimai Tunnel and it's limited by the growing consternation of the citizens there about congestion," he says.

Northport on the other hand sits on 49 hectares surrounded by 180 hectares zoned for port use.

Port ownership structure.
Port ownership structure. Photo credit: Newshub.

However, the report raises concerns about ownership of the three ports, in particular Northport.

"There's far too much rivalry, there's not enough collaboration, they operate in isolation and often to the detriment of New Zealand and as a politician I am going forward into the next election to bring that kind of behaviour to a halt," says Jones.

"New Zealand First is taking to the next election a very robust proposal to reform all of the three ports and our remits also deal with ownership."

"Unfortunately that is not the business of the cabinet or the Government I'm currently a part of. But I am very aspirational of being a future key partner in future governments."

The working group will release a second report in June, and final recommendations in September.

Newshub Nation.