Friday, 29th November, 2019

Comment by Michael Barnett.

There's a storm in our port. Political interests, appraised with a freshly skewed report, carefully honed by EY, are loading the dice to support their desire to move the freight operations of Ports of Auckland out of downtown, indeed clear out of town, to Northport, in underdeveloped Northland.

The report, entitled Economic Analysis of Upper North Island Supply Chain, is nothing of the kind. It provides absolutely no information, has glaring omissions and a list of assumptions without evidence on how the supposed costs and benefits are estimated, apart from some vague references to a "multi-criteria assessment" framework. We don't get to see that framework though. We don't get anything to help us, the Ports of Auckland public owners, see how the conclusions were reached.

The brief from the working group was to conduct a feasibility study to explore options for "moving the location of the Ports of Auckland, including giving Northport serious consideration". It came pre-framed, we see.

That's an about turn from EY's 2017 Port Futures Study report, based on evaluation of a range of options using a detailed "multi-criteria assessment" process, when Northport ranked number 12 out of 14 possible solutions.

Today, EY has deemed our port no longer economically or environmentally viable. In a phoenix-like rise, based on goodness knows what, Northport is the new number one, the final solution as the port of the future.

It's news to me and the Auckland community, not just Auckland Council and the business, export and transport sectors, that is ailing, snatching failure from the jaws of success.

Okay, so we may have the most expensive car park in the world on our waterfront, but the port is efficient, profitable and growing.

How it evolves in the future to keep on being competitive and profitable demands new thinking, imagination and a will to invest in infrastructure and sustainable practices. We have to lift the game constantly to be in step with international best practice, the revolution to automation, emergence of inland hubs and consideration of public expectations on environmental impacts.

Other international destinations have implemented new models, building a network of inland ports and connected transport systems for instance. That's an idea we should be investigating because it would enable jobs and revenue to still be generated from and for Auckland.

Moving the freight operations to Northport or anywhere else is a major strategic decision, with huge economic, social and environmental ramifications for the whole country.

No one is saying do nothing, let the status quo rule. Progress is not about doing more of the same and it is not progress to take what is in Auckland and plant it in Northland. That's just same same.

It is in our national best interests for Ports of Auckland to preserve its place as a major trading hub and thrive long into the future however its operations may transform, and its physical locations migrate.

Rolling over and gifting this precious Auckland asset to Northland is political stupidity. We, the ratepayers, own the Ports of Auckland and as they say, at the end of the day, the reality is that all options are on the table. Just give me the facts. I want reality to bite.

Any decision on the future of our port and the container terminal must be based on a credible and substantial business case, not political spin. And we do not have available a sound business case with figures, assumptions and analysis that can be trusted or used to make an informed decision.

The initial report, as it stands, is simply not safe to use. NZIER, the government's favoured research arm, calls it a "pre-feasibility study, but even then, it lacks the detail behind the results, it is not easy to understand why it feels able to draw such strong conclusions from such limited analysis ... and should be treated with a high degree of caution".

We want a business case – not a cot case.

For more information contact Michael Barnett, mobile: 0275 631 150.
Michael Barnett, Chief Executive, Auckland Business Chamber.