26 Jun 2015

Warnings over Auckland's ports

5:43 am on 26 June 2015

Warnings are being sounded over the future of Auckland's ports, now that an attempt to expand two wharves has halted.

Ports of Auckland

Ports of Auckland Photo: RNZ

Ports of Auckland says it won't appeal a High Court ruling that found resource consents to extend Bledisloe Wharf were unlawful.

But Auckland's mayor, port users and those who took the legal action agree it's now time to cooperate to find a permanent solution.

The chair of Urban Auckland, the group that took legal action against Auckland Council and the ports, spent around $250,000 on the case.

Chairperson Julie Stout said she was thrilled that neither the council, nor the council-owned port company, would challenge the High Court's decision.

"We can now put this adversarial position behind us and get on with dialogue. I think [Ports of Auckland] recognised that they didn't really stand a chance with the appeal - the judge made a very clear decision."

That decision found the way the consents were issued was flawed, as they were considered separately, instead of being bundled together.

It said if the consents had been considered together, the potential impact of the work meant it would have been put out for public consultation.

Auckland mayor Len Brown said not appealing the decision was the right thing for Ports of Auckland to do.

He would encourage the company not to lodge any further consents until a study into the port's future - which could take up to a year - was finished.

"There'll be some real benefit in ... actually working in with the community and deciding how we go forward with their development, rather than just continuing to push and proceed under their own steam, creating further ructions in the community."

However, there were real economic risks if the port - which pays about $60 million in dividends to the council each year - could not expand, Mr Brown said.

An Institute of Economic Research report commissioned by the council and published in February found the port's cargo capacity was under pressure.

The report's author, principal economist Nick Allison, said it needed more wharf space or it would become congested and inefficient.

"The consequence of that is that some of that activity may be taken by other transport means, and that means the port itself becomes less competitive.

"And also, some of the freights and goods may end up being taken through the Port of Tauranga, which competes with Ports of Auckland."

The lack of space for large cruise ships to berth meant Auckland already risked losing out on port visits, Mr Allison said.

That view was shared by the chair of industry group Cruise New Zealand, Kevin O'Sullivan.

"Some way of berthing them needs to be found, even if it takes a few more years than what we'd expected ... otherwise there's always the possibility that ships will go elsewhere.

That could include skipping New Zealand on cruise itineraries altogether, Mr O'Sullivan said.

Urban Auckland, which was involved in the port study, said alternatives could include using other existing wharves.

But any solution should not come at the expense of losing any more of Waitemata harbour, it said.

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Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

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