Northport is the only realistic option for Auckland Ports

Posted on March 15, 2016

Last month Auckland Council’s Port Future Study Group released a long-list of 12 possible options for port locations to meet its future growth and demands as an alternative to extending Ports of Auckland’s wharves further into the Waitemata harbour.

Northport at Marsden Point has been included in that initial list and has already been favourably mooted as an alternative to Auckland for vehicle imports while other options simply don’t stack up such as the ‘blue sky’ sites like Kaipara Harbour, Muriwai and the south-western coastline (including Port Waikato). The infrastructure and expansion capacity is in place at Northport.

Interesting too is that Port of Tauranga, a 50 percent shareholder of Northport, has also been listed in the mix alongside Whakatane. However, last August chief executive for Port of Tauranga, Mark Cairns, backed Northport as the best option for moving vehicle imports out of Auckland.

There is little doubt as a deep-water port Northport has both potential and capability to handle a lot of the Auckland’s freight and presents the best and most viable option to the Port Future Study group.

Vehicle imports though should only be a part of a much wider consideration that would take into account the logistics and support of the upper North Island economy and other bulk freight in and out of Auckland. In that light Northport has much to offer and could provide solutions that would benefit both Auckland and freight movements in the upper North Island. For example, an inland port at Silverdale (one hour south of Marsden Point and half an hour from Auckland’s CBD) could relieve some pressure for handling Auckland’s imports, and provide return containers for Northland’s exporters. Bulk freight currently taking up wharf space in Auckland could be handled by Northport. Increased container handling at Northport will provide Northland exporters, currently transporting by road to Auckland and Tauranga, with another option.

The primary consideration should be how the combined ports capacity of Auckland, Tauranga and Northport serve half of New Zealand’s population and economy.

However, there are infrastructure constraints that limit that possibility. A Northern expressway (road), similar to the Waikato expressway, is the most obvious short to medium term solution.

Rail could complement road but has a few more hurdles for that to be realised.

The rail-link is not a significant inhibitor to the future growth of Northport, particularly given the current low volumes of freight moved by rail within the region and the extra handling involved. Rail is most competitive for long-haul not quick turnaround, door-to-door or short-haul freight movements where road transport has a competitive advantage. Nevertheless it is an option that needs to be maintained for the future which is why a strategic decision has been made by NRC to designate and protect a rail corridor to Northport.

The bigger question for Northland is what should be done to assist the development and expansion of Northport to support the Northland economy? For Auckland Inc and NZ Inc Northport is a solution waiting to happen.

Having Ports of Auckland relocate a large part of its bulk freight to Marsden Point, which has vast industrial land in its vicinity for freight storage and handling, would be an important first step and result in a win-win situation for Auckland and Northland.

We in Northland know we are lucky to have a regional asset of this nature, one that has room to grow, is supportive of regional development, and is close to Auckland. It’s time others saw that too.

The Ports Future Study long-list comprises: Kaipara Harbour, Muriwai, Manukau area, South-western coastline (includes Port Waikato), Whangarei, Mahurangi, Upper North Auckland (includes Whangaparaoa and Long Bay), Waitemata and other Auckland areas, Tamaki Strait area, Firth of Thames, Tauranga and Whakatane.